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Pregnancy—Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome during and after pregnancy

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by fluid collecting around your wrist joints and pressing on the nerves that go through the wrist to the hand.

Carpal tunnel syndrome affects as many as one in three pregnant women. The symptoms include numbness and/or pins and needles in your fingers and hands; usually first thing in the morning. Although carpal tunnel syndrome is generally quite mild, in some cases it can be so painful that sleep is disturbed and hand movements are severely restricted.

It generally improves within a week or two after your baby's birth.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Tingling or numbness in part of the hand (thumb, index, middle or ring fingers).
  • Sharp pains that shoot from the wrist up the arm.
  • Burning sensations in the fingers.
  • Morning stiffness or cramping of hands.
  • Thumb weakness.
  • Frequently dropping objects.
  • Waking at night with hand pain and/or numbness.
  • Numbness in hand while driving.
  • Unable to open jars.
  • Difficult to shampoo hair/brush teeth.
  • Clumsiness with fine movements such as doing up buttons.

What can I do about it?

Modify activities

  • Try sleeping with your hands slightly raised up on pillows. You may need to wear a wrist splint at night if your symptoms are particularly painful and they are disturbing your sleep.
  • A splint will hold your hand and wrist so that your hand does not flop forward while you are asleep and add pressure to your carpal tunnel.
  • A resting splint can be purchased from larger pharmacies or made individually by occupational therapists, who can also supply working splints if required.

Avoid repetitive movements and sustained positions

  • Try to use your forearms instead of your wrists whenever possible. The best treatment for carpal tunnel is rest, so try and avoid using your hands and wrists when you can.
  • Use pillows to take some of your baby's weight off your hands when feeding or cuddling.
  • Carry things with your forearms, not your hands.

Housework and daily activities

  • Ask for help with food preparation, especially when using knives etc. Remember, you can buy pre-cut, pre-washed fruits and vegetables.
  • When brushing your teeth or your hair, try to move from your elbow instead of from your wrist. Avoid over-gripping the brush.

Pain relief

Massage

  • You can massage your own wrists to help ease some of the pain. Simply use your thumbs to rub firmly from one side of your wrist to the other with your palm facing up. You can do this as often as you need.
  • Some of the muscles that control your wrists and hands are in your forearm. Using your thumbs try to massage both sides of your forearms from your elbow down to about 10 cm above your wrists.

Contrast bathing

Set up two bowls and fill one with hot water and one with iced water. Bathe your hand/wrist in one bowl for about 30 seconds, then in the other for 30 seconds and repeat for three minutes. This can be done as often as you need.

Pain relief medications

Check with your pharmacist or doctor about pain relief. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding or have a medical condition talk to your pharmacist or doctor before taking any medication, even herbal remedies.

Exercises

Different women find different remedies helpful.

carpal-tunnel.jpgTry the following hand exercises, but do NOT continue if your symptoms become worse:

  • Hold your fingers stretched out as far as possible for a few seconds and then relax.
  • Make a fist and then straighten out your fingers.
  • Move your hands slowly up and down, from side to side, and round in a circle.

Your physiotherapist can prescribe further exercise (strengthening and mobility, nerve and tendon glides) and sometimes electrotherapy (e.g. ultrasound) if required.

Further information

For further information, or to make an appointment with a physiotherapist, phone Mater Mothers' Hospital Physiotherapy (Allied Health Reception) on 07 3163 6000.

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-430134
Last modified 31/7/2017.
Consumers were consulted in the development of this patient information.
Last consumer engagement date: 23/11/2016
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