Carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy

If during pregnancy you have your hands that are sore, tingling or numb, it is very likely that these conditions of yours are due to carpal tunnel syndrome.

This carpal tunnel syndrome is very common in pregnancy.

It occurs when fluid accumulates in the tissues of the wrist (edema), which compresses a nerve called the median nerve, which innervates the hand and fingers causing this way to tingling.

You may also notice that the grip of your hand is weaker, and that it is more difficult for you to move your fingers.

Carpal tunnel syndrome usually occurs in the second or third trimester. If you already had it during your first pregnancy, you will probably have it in subsequent pregnancies.

Carpal tunnel syndrome can continue or develop even in the days following the birth of the baby.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is usually worse in the dominant hand, particularly in the index and middle finger, although it can affect the entire hand.

It can be especially painful when you wake up in the morning, because during the night your hands remain closed.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is more likely to develop if your family has a history of carpal tunnel syndrome, or if you’ve had back, neck, or shoulder problems.

The median nerve runs through the upper part of the ribcage before sliding along the arm. So the existence of a problem in those upstream areas, such as the rupture of a collarbone, or whiplash increase the chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Even if you gain too much weight during pregnancy, you’re more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. This can happen if:

  • if you are expecting more than one child;
  • if you were already overweight before becoming pregnant;
  • if the breasts increase a lot in size.

These conditions bring extra weight to the shoulders, ribs and arms.

Carpal tunnel syndrome involves many discomforts, but it is usually not a serious condition. You’ll likely notice an improvement within three months of your baby’s birth, when hormone levels and fluid retention return to normal.

How to prevent this syndrome

  • Try to follow a balanced diet, so as to accumulate weight in a “healthy” way.
  • So try to reduce salt, sugar and fat.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Eat foods with a high content of vitamin B6, which promotes the development of a healthy nervous system.
  • Buy a bra that is appropriate for motherhood, so that you distribute the weight better and not weigh down your ribcage and sternum. These bras relieve pressure on the “path” of the median nerve.
  • Get vitamin B6 through your diet. They are good sources of vitamin B6,
    • sunflower and sesame seeds,
    • dark green vegetables such as broccoli,
    • garlic,
    • hazelnuts,
    • lean pork and lamb,
    • avocado,
    • fatty fish, such as salmon or cod,
    • suitable supplements (ask your doctor before taking supplements).

Natural remedies to counteract the symptoms

  • Ask your midwife to recommend guardians to sleep at night. These will help you not to close your hands.
  • It may be helpful to put your affected hand in cold water, or use an ice pack on the painful area. Gently move your fingers to move excess fluid, and keep your hand up when you can.
  • You can also try wrapping your wrist with cabbage leaves to try to drain excess fluid and relieve swelling. These leaves should first be cleaned but not washed. They can be cooled in the fridge, but not in the freezer. Wrap the leaves around your wrist until the area compresses. Let the leaves act until they become wet. Repeat this operation with fresh leaves until the pain subsides.
  • Do specific exercises:
    • Compress your wrist with your other hand, and massage it in a circular motion. This can ease congestion and facilitate fluid movement.
    • Gently stretch your hands and arms. Try not to make painful movements, because they could worsen the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome.
    • It can also be helpful to “hang” your hands on the edge of the bed at night to prevent you from closing them during sleep.
  • Try some massages. Ask your partner to gently massage your hands and wrists, moving to your armpits, and then your shoulders, neck, and upper back.
  • Try acupuncture and acupressure. Acupuncture can help relieve the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. According to research, it can reduce pain even more than holding a brace on your hands at night.
  • Or you could try, alone, with acupressure, or with the pressure of specific points of the body with your fingers. Apply pressure at regular intervals inside the wrist on the pericardium point 6 – PC6 – MC6 which is one of the acupuncture points (it is located above the inner fold of the wrist, between the tendons of the palmar muscle). To find this point,
    • Measure three fingers from the junction between the hand and the wrist. Press the spot where you feel a slight sinking, where the buckle of a wristwatch is usually located: press firmly on the sinking, which should hurt slightly, for 10 seconds.
    • Repeat this three times.
    • If both hands are affected, the massaging hand may not be able to press enough on the spot, so it’s best to ask someone to help you.
  • Try aromatherapy.
    • Essential oils such as cypress and lemon oils can be used as “tablets” to reduce swelling.
    • Put two drops of one of these essential oils in water, hot or cold, and soak a cloth in it.
    • Wrap the soaked cloth in liquid around your wrists.
    • It is not appropriate, during pregnancy, to use juniper berry oil, although it is often used to reduce swelling, as it may have influences on the kidneys.
  • Try chamomile.
    • Drinking chamomile tea can also help reduce inflammation.
    • However, do not drink more than one cup per evening.
    • In fact, although chamomile tea is known to help you sleep, drinking too much can have the opposite effect, and keep you awake.
  • Try osteopathy.
    • Both osteopathy (an alternative therapy based on manual contact) and the related practice of chiropractic (which focuses on the relationships between structures and their functions), aim to realign muscles, bones, joints and ligaments.
    • Osteopathy can help relieve neck and shoulder pain.
    • These neck and shoulder treatments can, in turn, reduce pressure in the wrists, hands and fingers.
  • Try reflexology.
    • Reflexology is based on many massage techniques and reflexes to regain well-being and health naturally.
    • Foot reflexology works on the principle that your foot is just a kind of map of your body.
    • There is not enough evidence that these treatments are effective, but still be pleasant and relaxing massages.
    • To access these treatments you should pay a reflexologist.

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform,

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