If you have carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy, you are not alone. It is a common neurologic condition in pregnant and non-pregnant individuals. It is important to note that it is a mechanical problem resulting from pressure on the median nerve located in your wrist (see diagram below). It is a focal nerve problem and not a neuromuscular illness.
- In the general population, carpal tunnel syndrome occurs in 4% to 6 % of the population.
- During pregnancy, it has been reported to affect up to 60% of pregnant women. (Source).
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by repetitive hand movements. For most women with carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy, the only treatment that will be necessary is immobilization of the wrist.
During my 20 years in clinical practice, it was remarkable to see how many women developed carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy. Most often it affected women who worked many hours on a computer.
Using a lot of digital products definitely can increase your risk of getting carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy. Especially if you have a past history of carpal tunnel syndrome.
In my office, an entire cabinet was stocked with wrist bands for carpal tunnel syndrome. Right-handed, left-handed, soft or firm. small, medium or large. This was before carpal tunnel wrist bands became available online.
Carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy occurs because of swelling during pregnancy.
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It is not the result of an underlying neuromuscular illness, genetic or autoimmune disorder. It is a mechanical problem that can often be managed by simply immobilizing the wrist with a brace.
What Are The Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
- Burning sensation
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of dexterity leading to dropping items or an inability to do technical tasks (typing, etc.)
- Radiation of symptoms into the upper arm on the affected side. This often occurs upon awakening in the morning.
(Symptoms are related to the area of innervation by the median nerve. This includes the thumb, index, and middle finger and half of the ring finger.)
Cause of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Pregnancy
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve. The median nerve passes through the wrist and is surrounded by a fibrous ligament called the “carpal ligament”. Ligaments are like “steel” and do not stretch.
When tissues in the wrist swell the “carpal tunnel” (which also encases nine tendons) becomes tight and puts pressure on the median nerve.
*When pressure is put on a nerve, nerve conduction is blocked and whatever is innervated by that nerve will be affected.
For most women, the symptoms are mild, for others, the symptoms can be incapacitating and may need surgery to “release the
carpal tunnel”. I have never had a patient require surgery during pregnancy for carpal tunnel syndrome.
Diagnosis of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Pregnancy
Your provider can diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome based on your medical history and physical exam and can decide whether further testing is necessary:
- X-ray to rule out a fracture or arthritis
- Electromyogram to evaluated electrical impulses in muscles
- Nerve conduction study to see if the median nerve impulses are slowed through the carpal tunnel
How To Relieve Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Pregnancy
If carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy is diagnosed, work with your provider and try these simple measures:
- Rest your hands whenever possible.
- Elevate your hand to reduce swelling.
- Immobilize your wrist/hand with a Carpal Tunnel Wrist Brace
- Avoid repetitive activities.
Conclusion: Treatment Summary
The first treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome is wrist immobilization. The use of a properly-sized wrist brace designed for
the management of carpal tunnel syndrome will effectively manage the majority of women with symptoms of carpal syndrome
during pregnancy. If symptoms persist, steroid injections may be required to reduce inflammation. If steroid treatment does not work you may require surgical treatment.
Surgical treatment is the last resort for women with very severe cases of carpal syndrome during pregnancy. Surgery is delayed,
if possible, until after your pregnancy. This allows time to see if your symptoms resolve spontaneously. When carpal tunnel
syndrome is associated with pregnancy, it almost always resolves after pregnancy. Swelling during pregnancy is very
common. It can be normal or it can be related to pregnancy complications. To learn more about swelling during pregnancy
check out our article: