If you have carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy, you are not alone. It is common in pregnant and non-pregnant individuals. The symptoms are a result of pressure on the median nerve which is located in your wrist (see diagram below). It is a focal nerve problem, not a neurological 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 most often caused by inflammation in the wrist due to repetitive hand movements. For most women with carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy, immobilization of the wrist is the only treatment that will be necessary. It is more common during pregnancy because of tissue swelling.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is not the only medical condition that can result from swelling during pregnancy. To learn more check out our article on How To Prevent Swelling During Pregnancy.
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 our OB/GYN office, we kept an entire cabinet stocked with wrist bands for carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Right-handed braces
- Left-handed braces
- Soft or Firm
- Small, medium or large.
***This was before carpal tunnel wrist braces became available online:
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We want to stress again, the fact that carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy is rarely a neurological disorder. Though other neurologic conditions can have similar symptoms it is very rare that carpal tunnel syndrome first occurring in pregnant women will be indicative of an underlying neurologic, genetic or autoimmune disorder. Still, it is important to have a proper clinical evaluation performed.
Carpal tunnel Syndrome is an anatomic/mechanical medical condition. The symptoms associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome correspond to the location where sensory and motor function of the hand is controlled by the median nerve.
The symptoms listed below are common symptoms that occur when persistent pressure is exerted on a nerve. The pressure that is hard enough to block nerve conduction.
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.
The sensory and motor function of the Median Nerve includes the thumb, index, and middle finger and half of the ring finger. (see diagram below)
Cause of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Pregnancy
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the median nerve. As the median nerve passes through the wrist, it is surrounded by a fibrous ligament called the “carpal ligament”. This ligament is like “steel” and does not stretch.
When tissues in the wrist swell during pregnancy the “carpal ligament” , which also encases nine tendons and blood vessels become tight and this 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 of carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy are mild. For others, the symptoms can be severe and may require the use of steroids or surgery. Surgery is done as a last resort and is often deferred until after pregnancy to see if the symptoms improve with the postpartum diuresis of fluid.
Surgical correction involves the “release the carpal ligament”. I have never had a patient require surgery during pregnancy for carpal tunnel syndrome. I have only had one patient require steroids.
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 will effectively
manage the majority of women with symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy.
If symptoms persist, steroid injections may be indicated to reduce inflammation. If steroid treatment is not effective the need
for surgery to release the carpal ligament may be necessary.
Surgical management is the last resort for women with severe carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy. If possible, surgery
is delayed until after pregnancy. The postpartum delay allows time for swelling to resolve. Often times the symptoms resolve
and surgery is not necessary.
Swelling during pregnancy can be normal or it can be related to pregnancy complications. To learn more about swelling during
pregnancy check out our article: