Ah, pregnancy. The miracle of creating a little human using nothing but your body and sheer willpower. It's an experience unlike any other - the excitement, the anticipation, and yes, even the challenges.
One challenge that many pregnant people may not expect is carpal tunnel syndrome. That's right, folks - along with morning sickness and swollen ankles, you can add wrist pain to the list of joys that come with growing another person inside of you.
But why does this happen? And what can you do about it? Let's take a look at some common questions related to pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Anyway?
If you've never experienced carpal tunnel before (pregnant or otherwise), you might be wondering what exactly we're talking about here. Essentially, carpal tunnel is a condition where there is pressure on one of the nerves in your wrist. This can lead to symptoms like:
In severe cases, it may even cause loss of function in your hand(s).
Okay...But Why Does It Happen During Pregnancy?
You might think that since most people experience swelling during pregnancy (thanks hormones!), this would be the obvious culprit behind carpal tunnel syndrome too. And while swelling certainly can play a role (more on that later), there are actually other factors at play as well.
Hormones Can Wreak Havoc On More Than Just Your Emotions
Yes friends, those pesky hormones strike again! Specifically, an increase in progesterone can actually cause changes in tissues throughout your body -- including those around your median nerve (which is located within your wrist). These changes can make it more likely for you to develop symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Fluid Retention Is Not Your Friend
It probably doesn't surprise you that pregnant people tend to retain fluids. But did you know that this can also affect your wrists? The fluid buildup can put pressure on that median nerve we mentioned earlier, leading to carpal tunnel symptoms.
As your abdomen grows during pregnancy, it's natural for your body to shift its center of gravity forward in response. Unfortunately, this can cause poor alignment in other parts of the body - including your wrists. If you're spending a lot of time typing or doing other repetitive tasks throughout the day (more on why this is particularly important later), poor posture can exacerbate any existing issues and lead to carpal tunnel pain.
Why Is It So Common In Pregnancy...And What Does That Mean For You?
Now that we've covered some potential reasons why carpal tunnel might happen during pregnancy, let's talk about what those stats actually look like.
According to one study from the Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, nearly two-thirds (!) of women experience hand/wrist problems at some point during their pregnancies. While not all of these cases are specifically linked to carpal tunnel syndrome, it's clear that wrist pain and discomfort is a pretty common side-effect of growing another human inside you.
So if you're experiencing these symptoms yourself, rest assured: you're definitely not alone!
Symptoms To Look Out For
If you think you may be dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome (whether or not it's related directly to pregnancy), here are some common signs and symptoms:
- Pain/numbness/tenderness in one or both hands/wrists
- Weakness when grasping objects
- Burning/tingling sensations
- A feeling like "pins and needles"
- Shock-like sensations up into the arm(s)
Note: There are certainly other conditions which could cause similar symptoms as well -- for example, tendonitis or Reynaud's phenomenon. If you're not sure what's causing your wrist/hand pain, it's always a good idea to check in with your doctor!
How To Prevent And Alleviate Carpal Tunnel Symptoms During Pregnancy
Okay...so we've talked about why carpal tunnel can happen during pregnancy and some potential warning signs. But how do you prevent those symptoms from getting worse or stop them completely?
Invest In An Ergonomic Keyboard/Mouse
If you work on a computer for long stretches of time (which, let's be real, most of us do these days), it's worth considering investing in an ergonomic keyboard/mouse combo. These types of tools are designed specifically to help reduce strain on the wrists, meaning they could be helpful in preventing/treating carpal tunnel pain.
Take Breaks Often...And Stretch Those Wrists
Another way to mitigate the risk of developing carpal tunnel (or lessen existing symptoms) is by taking frequent breaks throughout the day where you step away from any repetitive activities that may be exacerbating your wrist/hand pain. Stretching exercises (such as the ones detailed below) can also work wonders:
Wrist Flexors/Finger Extensors Stretch
- Extend arm and wrist straight out in front of body.
- Bend hand at wrist so fingertips point down toward floor.
- With opposite hand gently press thumb towards inside of forearm until stretch is felt through top part of forearm and backside of hand.
- Repeat steps 2-3 but this time pressing pinky finger towards outside edge area near elbow.
(Feel free to Google this one if need be)
Wear A Splint Overnight
Since many people sleep with their wrists flexed into awkward positions without even realizing it (!), wearing a splint while sleeping could help alleviate symptoms over time.
Specifically, splints like this one could be helpful for anyone experiencing carpal tunnel pain during pregnancy -- it's designed to stabilize the wrist while also providing cushion.
Talk To Your Doctor About Pain Management Options
If your pain is especially severe, you might consider talking to your doctor about options for managing it. While you obviously want to avoid anything too strong when it comes to medication (to protect your growing fetus), things like topical creams or ice/heat therapy may provide some relief.
When To Seek Professional Help
In most cases, carpal tunnel symptoms can be managed fairly easily with self-care measures(). However, there may come a time where additional intervention is necessary. Specifically:
- If you're experiencing weakness in the hand(s) that makes basic tasks difficult or impossible
- If non-surgical treatments don't seem to be helping after a few weeks of consistent effort on your part
At this point, seeing an orthopedic specialist who has experience treating carpal tunnel syndrome would likely be beneficial.
Note: In rare cases where nerve damage has occurred as a result of untreated (or poorly treated) carpal tunnel syndrome, surgery may need to happen in order to rectify the problem.
()Examples include icing injuries/resting inflammation(☐); avoiding typing if possible(☐); and wearing splints while sleeping (✅)