Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Pregnancy

Around two-thirds of pregnant women will suffer Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Never heard of it? Read on...

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You’ve definitely heard of morning sickness, you’ve probably come across Pelvic Girdle Pain. But one delightful pregnancy side effect that will no doubt be new to you (despite causing all sorts of pain and discomfort) is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

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Sounds strange! What is it?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is when the nerve that runs through your wrist is irritated by swelling or damaged tendons. It’s common in pregnancy because increased fluid can put pressure on the nerve. The carpal tunnel, through which the nerve runs, then becomes swollen.

Symptoms tend to be worse at night because of the build-up of fluid during the day, meaning that as well as pain, you will probably suffer some sleepless nights before your baby has even arrived. Excellent!

“I’ve been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome,” says Clare-Abelle on our forums.  “Which basically means that my nerves are getting trapped in my wrists leaving me with permanent pins and needles and numbness in hands & fingers. IT IS DRIVING ME MAD!!”

Actress Claire Sweeney, of Loose Women and Celebrity Big Brother fame, whose first son was born October 2014, also suffered and had to wear a wrist support. She said at the time: “I have to sleep with my arm in a splint and at first it scared me, but reading about the hordes of other pregnant women out there with the same problem made me feel better.”

In fact, around 60 per cent of mums-to-be suffer this condition to some degree, so it’s pretty common.

How do I spot it?

“Common Carpal Tunnel Syndrome symptoms include pins and needles, pain, numbness and sometimes weakness affecting the fingers. Symptoms tend to be worse at night and may wake you up,” explains Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and Clinical Consultant at Patient.co.uk. 

You may find you wake with fingers and hands that are stiff and locked, and the only way to get them moving again is to run them under warm water. You might struggle with fiddly tasks, or gripping certain objects.

Sweetheart also suffered and says on our forums: “Had carpal tunnel probs in right wrist whole pregnancy especially at night, woke up with hamster hands each morning! Hospital gave me splints to wear at night to keep wrists straight and keep blood flowing through constricted veins – not sexy but worth trying/asking about, defo helped me.”

It sounds miserable! Is there anything I can do to ease the pain?

Unfortunately, there is no cure, except having your baby. Medication is not recommended during pregnancy but there are ways to ease the symptoms.

Try to rest your affected hand as much as you can, avoiding non-essential tasks. Rest it on a pillow and try to keep it elevated, perhaps using a rolled up towel, to reduce fluid retention.

Dr Sarah Jarvis recommends dropping your hand down over the side of your bed at night so that you whole arm is hanging down. The important thing it to try not to sleep on your hands.

Try exercises such as circling and flexing your wrists, but often the most effective form of pain relief is wearing a splint as Claire Sweeney did, even if it’s just at night. They might look unattractive, especially with a swollen belly and ankles, but the relief will be worth it.

“The idea of the splint is to keep the wrist at a neutral angle, so the nerve isn’t squashed or stretched,” explains Sarah.

If symptoms are very severe, a local steroid injection or surgery after the birth of your baby might be needed, but fortunately, this is rare.

Suzaie2 suffered and says: “The wrist supports really help, but it also helps if you have two bowls of water, one warm, one cold and put both hands in one for a minute, and then the other for a minute and then repeat a few times. It sounds strange, but my physio suggested it and it really works. It does go after baba is born.”

How long does it usually last? 

“Carpal tunnel syndrome gets more common in later pregnancy, and symptoms may get worse as your due date approaches, especially if you’re getting more fluid retention,” explains Sarah.

“I have had this since I was 18 weeks pregnant (am nearly 31 wks now),” says samjjones chatting on the MFM forum. “I have wrist supports from the doctor and do help when the pain is bad.

“My right wrist is more painful than the left, can’t even wipe my own bum now (tmi!!!) have had to adapt to using the left hand. The doctor has assured me that this will disappear once the baby arrives”.

Fortunately, for two out of three women, the symptoms ease off once the baby is born, usually within a few weeks. If this is not the case, you may need surgery to release the pressure on the nerve. Don’t be alarmed – this is done as an outpatient under local anaesthetic and you won’t need to stay in overnight. 

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