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Carpal tunnel syndrome and pregnancy

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition that causes pain, numbness, and tingling in your hand and finger.

It's caused by pressure on a nerve in your wrist called the median nerve.

carpal_tunnel_syndrome
Pressure on a nerve in your wrist causes Carpal tunnel syndrome

Symptoms of CTS in pregnancy can include:

  • pins and needles - often in your index and middle fingers
  • numbness - often in your index and middle fingers
  • pain in your fingers and thumbs
  • burning sensation in the fingers
  • weakness of the muscles that control your thumb, which can affect your grip strength

Symptoms may affect both hands. One may be worse than the other. Pain is especially common at night.

If your pain is severe

Talk to your GP if your pain is severe. They can sometimes prescribe painkillers for you.

CTS in pregnancy

CTS is more common if you're pregnant. When you are pregnant the nerve in your wrist can become squashed due to extra fluid and swelling.

Having symptoms during pregnancy does not mean you will get it again in future pregnancies. But it is more common as your pregnancy progresses.

It may happen along with swelling of your ankles and feet. It can be more uncomfortable in the third trimester (week 27 until birth). Symptoms are often worse at night.

For most women, symptoms will ease a few weeks after your baby is born.

How to manage symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) in pregnancy

You can manage your symptoms during pregnancy by:

  • exercises
  • adjusting your position during labour and other tasks
  • avoiding repetitive tasks

Rest and sleeping position

When resting, rest your hands and wrists on a pillow or cushion. Make sure it is placed higher than your heart.

Some patients say that elevating or hanging your hand can help the pain. For example, let your hands hang down over a bed.

Do not sleep on the side of your painful hand. Wearing a splint at night helps keep your wrist in a comfortable position.

Ask your pharmacist or physiotherapist for advice.

Reduce swelling

Running cold water over your wrist before bed may help reduce swelling.

You can reduce general swelling in the rest of your body by:

  • eating less salty food
  • going swimming

What to avoid

Avoid repetitive tasks, such as:

  • excessive squeezing
  • gripping
  • wringing

Avoid any positions or tasks that make your symptoms worse.

Exercises

Do gentle hand and wrist exercises every day.

Follow these steps:

  1. Make a circular motion with your thumb, 5 times one direction and 5 times the other direction.
  2. Open and close your fists 10 times.
  3. With your elbows held against your sides, hold your hands with your palms facing up and then down to the floor. Repeat this 10 times.

Hold each position for at least 5 seconds. Repeat the whole stretch 5 times.

During labour

You might be leaning down in labour, for example while resting on a ball or on all fours. If so, try leaning on clenched fists with a straight wrist or on your forearms with your elbows bent instead.

Managing your symptoms after the birth

Some women can develop or continue to have symptoms of carpal tunnel after giving birth. This can make feeding your baby difficult.

Feeding your baby

To reduce discomfort when feeding your baby you can:

  • avoid bending your wrists
  • sit up straight in a supportive chair
  • have a pillow underneath your baby - so your arms only need to support your baby rather than holding them up
  • support your baby’s head with your forearm instead of your hand

If you are breastfeeding, you may find lying on your side more comfortable.

Talk to your GP or physiotherapist if your symptoms continue for more than a few weeks after the birth.

page last reviewed: 17/06/2019
next review due: 17/06/2022