It’s not uncommon for pregnant women to experience pain and tingling sensations in their fingers and hands. In fact, according to one study, about a third of all pregnant women exhibited the classic symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a condition in which the compressed median nerve running from the neck to the wrist causes stiffness and swelling in the hands, fingers, and wrists.
These symptoms most often arise in the second or third trimester, as fluid builds up in the tissues and joints in the wrist and hand. This excess fluid puts pressure on the median nerve, with the pain concentrated in the first and middle fingers in the dominant hand. Because women sleep with their hands curled, they may feel CTS symptoms more acutely upon awakening.
Women who’ve had CTS during one pregnancy are likely to experience it again in subsequent pregnancies. In addition, women who have gestational diabetes or hypertension stand a greater chance of developing CTS during pregnancy. Fortunately, CTS typically subsides after delivery, although one study concluded that about one in six women continue to have symptoms following the birth of a baby.
Whether during or after pregnancy, women can explore several treatment options to reduce CTS symptoms. Before therapy, a hand specialist will diagnose the condition and suggest remedies.
Diagnosing and Treating CTS During Pregnancy
To diagnose CTS, a physician will first perform a complete physical exam that may include gently tapping the affected nerve to determine if the pressure causes a tingling sensation, as that can indicate nerve damage. Patients might also undergo electrodiagnostic testing with electrodes. When placed on the wrist, electrodes that monitor nerve signals check whether the median nerve is blocked.
If the diagnosis turns up CTS, conservative treatment methods are recommended. Here are six methods pregnant women with CTS might try to alleviate the symptoms:
- Wear a Splint. To keep the wrist in a neutral, not bent, position, patients can slip on a splint during the day. And since CTS may flare up at night, pregnant women may find it beneficial to put on the brace as they sleep.
- Water Therapy. Submerging the hand in cold water or wrapping the wrist in a towel filled with ice for 10 minutes several times a day may reduce swelling. Another water-based therapy to try is alternating between cold and warm water for one minute each, for a total of six minutes.
- Massage. To release built-up fluid in the wrist, a physical therapist can massage the hands, wrists, neck, shoulders, and upper back. Or, the patients can wrap one hand around the wrist of the painful hand and massage the area in a circular motion.
- Rest the Wrist. CTS sufferers should avoid activities, such as typing on a keyboard, that intensify symptoms. Of course, that may not be possible for pregnant women who work during their pregnancy. If that’s the case, women should keep their wrists straight and their elbows higher than their hands while typing. Switching to an ergonomic keyboard may also ease the discomfort of CTS.
- Acupuncture. A 2017 study found that this traditional Chinese therapy reduced CTS symptoms. For a similar effect, patients can apply pressure to the inside of their wrist for about 10 seconds.
- Take Pain Medication. To relieve CTS pain, pregnant women can take acetaminophen (Tylenol), but must keep the total dosage under 3,000 mg daily. Conversely, pregnant women should avoid ibuprofen (Advil) unless given permission by their doctor, as ibuprofen may cause low amniotic fluid.
Healing CTS Pain
The orthopedic hand specialists at Florida Hand Center treat a variety of hand and wrist issues, including CTS. We diagnose the condition and advise our patients on therapies that enable them to regain full use of their hands and wrists. Contact us today for an appointment.