Although pregnancy is filled with special moments such as seeing your baby on the screen at each scan, hearing the heartbeat and feeling those little kicks, it’s also a time where you might be plagued with strange aches, pains and sensations. And top of the list of the most pronounced preggy ailments is carpal tunnel syndrome.
We asked two experts to share their best strategies for dealing with this common, yet painful, pregnancy condition.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
If you’ve experienced tingling, numbness or pain in your fingers, chances are you have some degree of carpal tunnel syndrome. “The carpal tunnel is a bony canal in the wrist, made up of the wrist bones on three sides and a ligament that runs across the wrist on the palmar side of the forearm,” says physiotherapist and kinesiologist Adrian Stevens. The median nerve, which provides sensation to the thumb, index, middle and half of the ring finger runs through this canal.
“It flairs up when there’s increased pressure within the carpal tunnel that puts pressure on the median nerve. This can cause numbness and pain in these fingers,” he explains. In severe cases, the pain and numbness may radiate to the forearm, elbow and shoulder and in some cases moms-to-be aren’t able to grip things properly, adds Dr Johann van Zyl, medical advisor to KeyHealth Medical Scheme.
Why is carpal tunnel syndrome more common during pregnancy?
The main reason is fluid retention – which is more common in pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimester. The more excess fluid there is floating around in the body, the more pressure there’ll be within this narrow canal. “It’s this pressure build-up that is ultimately responsible for the symptoms commonly experienced with carpal tunnel syndrome,” says Adrian. To make matters worse, these symptoms seem to heighten at night with some moms-to-be struggling to sleep due to the pain, says Dr van Zyl. In this case, sleep deprivation starts early.
Top tips to treat carpal tunnel syndrome
If you’re spending hours at work, check that your workstation is ergonomically correct
This is because carpal tunnel can also be caused by a repetitive strain injury such as using the computer. You may even consider using an ergonomic keyboard and mouse.
Try to take regular breaks from your computer
If your hands become sore or numb, you can try gently shaking them says Adrian. Another pain relief option is to lift your hands above your head and gently shake them to help with the fluid that has built up in your wrist.
Avoid foods that cause inflammation
If you’re particularly prone to carpal tunnel syndrome, you’ll also want to stay away from fried foods, processed carbohydrates and sugars, while also reducing your red meat intake. Rather eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables that lower inflammation in the body, says Adrian.
Consider using a wrist splint on one or both wrists
This will help to prevent prolonged flexion or extension of the wrist and can help to alleviate symptoms. Splints are especially useful at night and may just help you get a good night’s sleep.
Top tip: If the pain is severe, speak to your doctor before resorting to pain medications, as many aren’t safe during pregnancy.
Get a cortisone injection
Local cortisone injections are safe during pregnancy and can be useful when it comes to relieving the pain for an extended period. This is a good option to consider before surgery, says Dr van Zyl.
This may help to relieve symptoms, but this isn’t a guaranteed success.
When will the pain and numbness go away?
The good news is, if you have pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome, you may start to experience some relief soon after giving birth, says Dr van Zyl. However, because carpal tunnel syndrome is mainly linked to fluid retention, you might still feel pain and numbness for a month or two after giving birth – particularly when you’re breastfeeding, warns Adrian. Remember it takes time for the body to normalise after giving birth, and this includes fluid retention.
When should you seek help?
Although carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy is seldom serious to the extent that it will result in permanent damage, if you’re in a lot of pain and experiencing persistent symptoms, such as numbness and tingling in one or both hands, see your doctor says Dr van Zyl. Why suffer in silence when you don’t have to?
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike.