Pregnancy comes with a surprising number of strange side effects and syndromes. You were prepared for the nausea of the first trimester, random food cravings, and insomnia, but you may not have realized that pregnancy can even cause things like carpal tunnel syndrome. Yes, this is a thing — in fact, it’s a pretty common one — as pregnancy and postpartum carpal tunnel syndrome can occur in as many as half of pregnancies by the third trimester. If you suffer from this, chances are good you’re looking for pregnancy carpal tunnel relief, and fast.
The most common symptoms of carpal tunnel are pain in the hand or arm, and some numbness and tingling in the area. If you start feeling this and suspect carpal tunnel syndrome might be what you have, be sure to talk to to your healthcare specialist.
While you may not have a lot of control when it comes to preventing carpal tunnel during pregnancy, there are definitely some things you can do to make it better. We spoke to two medical experts to get all of the details on what you need to know about pregnancy carpal tunnel relief so that you can feel better fast.
Causes of pregnancy carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome generally develops when there is nerve compression in the wrist. “The median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the hand, becomes entrapped within a narrow passageway, or ‘tunnel,’ within the wrist,” explains Dr. Keley John Booth, M.D., a spine and joint specialist. “Pain, numbness, and tingling of the hand and fingers often result from constant pressure on the nerve.” It will generally affect your fingers and can occur in one or both hands.
Pregnancy carpal tunnel syndrome is typically caused by fluid retention. “Hormonal changes cause the body to hold onto more fluid, which is entirely normal during pregnancy,” says Kristina Kehoe, a physical therapist and board-certified women’s health specialist. “Oftentimes, this fluid retention can put pressure on the nerve that causes carpal tunnel syndrome.” Because that nerve is in such a small space, it doesn’t take a lot for it to become compressed.
How to relieve pregnancy carpal tunnel syndrome
Fortunately, pregnancy carpal tunnel relief can be achieved even without using medication or even resorting to surgery. Here are some relief measures to try:
Keep the wrist in the right position
You should always be mindful of the position of your wrist throughout your day and even at night. “In general, you want to avoid keeping the wrist in a bent position because this will put more pressure on the nerve,” Kehoe tells Romper. She recommends to sleep on your side at night and to try to elevate the arm or both arms on a pillow, while avoiding curling your arms. She also says to keep your wrists in a neutral position throughout the day.
Elevate your arms
If you’re feeling a lot of pain, periodically elevate your arm or arms over your head and pump your fists, Kehoe recommends. This helps to avoid fluid pooling further down the arm, which can make the pain worse.
Try some nerve stretches and exercises
Stretching out the median nerve that causes carpal tunnel syndrome may help offer some relief. Kehoe recommends a stretch called a ‘median nerve glide.’ “Curl one arm toward the top of your shoulder, bending at your elbow and wrist,” she says. “Next, slowly straighten your elbow out to the side of your body. When your elbow is straight, extend your wrist so your fingers are pointed toward the floor. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat five to 10 times.”
Wear a splint
Pregnancy carpal tunnel syndrome suffers should wear some sort of wrist support, like a wrist brace or splint. This is especially helpful at night when you’re sleeping since there’s more of a chance you will bend or flex the wrist into a bad position without even realizing it, says Booth. “The goal is to keep the hand and wrist in a neutral position while sleeping overnight,” he says. “Wrist supports are a safe, simple, low-risk method that can help during pregnancy.”
Take over-the-counter pain relievers
If the pain is really bad, you don’t have to suffer through it without taking something. Taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) while pregnant is fine for most people, just be sure to get the OK from your medical provider. “This pain reliever is widely used during pregnancy and may help reduce some of the painful symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome,” Booth says. However, you should always consult your healthcare provider before taking any medication during pregnancy to confirm whether there are any safety concerns.
Consider a physical therapist
Sometimes you need more professional pregnancy carpal tunnel relief. If you think that’s the case, consider a physical therapist. “This may be a good option to assist with treating mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome,” Booth says. Therapists will ensure you have a thorough understanding of how to perform the therapeutic exercises. In addition, they monitor your progress and may suggest a specialist evaluation if symptoms worsen.
Try an injection
Severe cases of pregnancy carpal tunnel can mean a non-surgical, minimally invasive injection is a good option. In order to consider this, you’ll need a formal diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as a green light from your OB-GYN. “This injection is ideally performed with an ultrasound-guided technique to reduce the risk of tissue injury and improve accuracy,” Booth says. “In my experience, patients commonly receive a significant improvement in symptoms within days to weeks.” He doesn’t recommend considering this option during the first trimester.
Does delivery make pregnancy carpal tunnel go away?
For all the pregnant mamas dealing with the aches and pains of carpal tunnel, there’s good news: This syndrome often goes away after delivery. “After delivery, the body should no longer continue to hold onto extra fluid,” Kehoe says. “Therefore, the pressure on the median nerve will decrease. The majority of women find resolution of symptoms after delivery.” This is definitely something to consider before deciding to get any invasive treatment done, Booth tells Romper.
Although pregnancy carpal tunnel syndrome is really common, that doesn’t make it any less painful or annoying. If you think you’re experiencing this, talk to your healthcare provider and follow these tips to keep yourself as comfortable as possible. And remember: once your baby arrives, your pregnancy carpal tunnel will most likely go away.
Dr. Keley John Booth, M.D., a spine, joint, & regenerative interventional specialist
Kristina Kehoe, physical therapist and board-certified women’s health specialist