Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that causes pain, numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers. The symptoms may start gradually and tend to be worse at night. Symptoms usually affect the thumb, index finger, middle finger and half of the ring finger. Although some sufferers find the condition affects their whole hand.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the nerve that controls movement and sensation in the hands (the median nerve) is compressed. This condition is common during pregnancy. Excess fluid builds up in the tissues, and causes swelling which then compresses the median nerve.
Around half of all pregnant women will experience carpal tunnel syndrome. It can develop at any point during the pregnancy, but will most commonly appear during the second and third trimesters.
Carpal Tunnel Symptoms
The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Pain, numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers
- Pins and needles
- Thumb weakness
- Dull ache in the arm or wrist
- Dry skin or swelling in the affected fingers
Carpal Tunnel Treatment
For most pregnant women, this condition can be managed successfully at home. You may find the pain worsens at night. You can try the following to ease any discomfort:
- Avoid sleeping on your hands
- When tingling occurs, try shaking your hands
- Do not leave your arm or wrist in the same position for long periods
- Avoid tasks that require repetitive hand or wrist movements
- Take gentle exercise – yoga may help to alleviate some of the discomfort
Taking a B6 vitamin supplement may help, but you should check with your healthcare provider before taking them. Your healthcare provider may also recommend ultrasound therapy if your condition is severe.
If the pain is keeping you awake, your healthcare provider may recommend a wrist splint. The splint keeps your wrist straight which maximises the space in the carpal tunnel, and reduces compression of the median nerve.
Most women find that their symptoms have completely disappeared within three months of the birth. If you are still experiencing symptoms by your child's first birthday, you may need treatment. In this instance, you may be offered a steroid injection to reduce inflammation in your arm.
In severe cases, a small surgical procedure may be required to ease the discomfort of carpal tunnel syndrome. This is very rare though.
You should contact your healthcare provider for treatment if:
- The condition is preventing you from sleeping
- You have constant numbness in any part of your hand