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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Pregnancy

Katlyn Joy |13, September 2013


Of all the maladies of pregnancy, carpal tunnel may not be one you expect to deal with. However, according to the State Medical Society of Wisconsin, up to 62 percent of pregnant women get carpal tunnel syndrome while expecting a child.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome involves an area in your wrist where the small wrist bones, or carpal bones, and the transverse carpal ligament form a small space or tunnel. When any activities or conditions make that already small space tighter, symptoms such as tingling, numbness, weakness or pain can result in the area and may extend up the arm as well.

Pregnancy can bring on carpal tunnel syndrome due to swelling, which often increases as the pregnancy progresses. It is particularly common if you must move the area repetitively such as while keyboarding or other similar movements. Swelling puts increased pressure on the median nerve leading to symptoms.

When Do Carpal Tunnel Symptoms Begin in Pregnancy?

For women who deal with the pain of the syndrome, the symptoms typically arise in the last trimester and generally disappear a few weeks following childbirth. However, some women can continue to suffer from tingling or numbness for up to a few years postpartum. Also, women who get carpal tunnel syndrome with one pregnancy often get it in subsequent pregnancies.

What to Do if You Suspect Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

If you have symptoms that seem like carpal tunnel, make an appointment with your physician. If your next ob-gyn appointment is near, make a note to speak about your symptoms then.

Most likely, treatment will be aimed at alleviating symptoms. Common treatments would include wearing a special wrist splint meant to protect the area by making your wrist stay straight. Many people will only need to wear the splint at night, but that may depend on the severity of the symptoms and what activities you participate in.

If you can avoid repetitive movements that exacerbate the condition, you should avoid them. If you can get alternative assignments at work for a time, that should be arranged. Carpal tunnel syndrome should be covered under temporary disability type provisions on the job.

You will want to avoid any thing that may make your swelling of hands worse, as this puts more pressure on the area. Avoid salty foods or overuse of the wrist, as well.

You may see a physical therapist or occupational therapist for tips on ways to exercise your wrist to help alleviate symptoms. Exercises may help you strengthen the muscles in your hand and arm and lessen problems associated with CTS.

Occupational therapists are also good at teaching you how to go about your daily tasks without putting undue stress on the area. You may need to learn new ways to do chores, sleep at night or do your job.

At night, you can sleep with your hands elevated on pillows to try to keep from flexing the wrist and waking with worsened symptoms. Should you awaken to pins and needles with your hands being asleep, hang them from the side of the bed and shake them until normal sensation returns.

Should your symptoms not be relieved by all these actions, your physician may decide to try injections of corticosteroids. These medications are believed safe for both you and your unborn child and will bring relief. However, this is not something you can do repeatedly long term, and the relief is only for the short term. However, by the time the injection wears off, you most likely will be recovering from childbirth and having fewer and fewer symptoms, if any at all.

For women who continue to have problems months postpartum, surgery may be a possibility. Generally surgery would involve cutting the ligament that is pressing on the median nerve.

However, most women will find their symptoms go away not long after giving birth and may not have a reoccurrence of symptoms except possibly during later pregnancies.

Article Sources: WebMD, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine

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