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Pregnancy-Induced Carpal Tunnel Syndrome


Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Your back hurts. Your feet are swollen (and they hurt, too). You have to empty your bladder more times than you can count. You fully expected all these things to happen during pregnancy, right?

But now your hands are numb. Your fingers tingle. You can barely grip a coffee mug. What’s going on?

According to orthopaedic surgeon John R. Fowler, MD, you could be suffering from pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome.

“Expectant moms are susceptible to this condition, as there is generalized swelling in pregnancy,” he says.

This common problem affects the wrist and hand when too much pressure is put on the median nerve. The median nerve is what gives feeling to your thumb, index, and middle fingers. It’s also responsible for the muscle movement at the base of your thumb.

RELATED: What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

“The median nerve runs through a narrow passage, or tunnel, in your wrist to your hand and fingers,” explains Dr. Fowler. “The fluid retention and swelling that happens during pregnancy can cause the nerve to be pinched in this tight space. This compression is what causes symptoms.”

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms

Pain, numbness, tingling, and swelling in the hand and fingers are all common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Dr. Fowler notes other problems you may notice include:

  • Feeling clumsy, or dropping items more frequently
  • Loss of strength, or feeling too weak to grasp items
  • Finding it difficult to perform fine motor tasks like clasping a necklace or buttoning clothes

RELATED: Have a Safe Pregnancy by Looking After Your Health

Pain Relief for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Dr. Fowler suggests easing up on the activities that aggravate your hands the most.

“You should avoid activities that force your wrists into a flexed or bent-back position, like typing or holding onto handles of gym equipment.”

Carpal tunnel symptoms can often feel the worst at night or right after you wake up.

“I often recommend wearing splints at night to prevent you from bending the palm down toward the wrist,” he says. “Bending down, or up, causes restricted blood flow to the nerve. In severe, unrelenting cases, I can perform an ultrasound-guided injection of corticosteroids into the carpal tunnel. This provides most patients with relief.”

After Pregnancy

Just like your feet should return to their normal size and your back aches should disappear, your carpal tunnel syndrome should resolve on its own after delivery. However, symptoms may persist if you are breastfeeding. If they do, Dr. Fowler encourages you to tell your OB/GYN at your postpartum visit.

“You may need to be referred to a hand specialist if your symptoms are constant or severe,” he says. “There are nonsurgical and surgical treatments available if needed.”

UPMC’s hand surgeons perform thousands of procedures for more common ailments, and have the experience and equipment to handle and treat difficult and unusual cases. Visit us online or call 412-687-3900.

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UPMC Orthopaedic Care

A nationally recognized leader in advanced orthopaedics, UPMC Orthopaedic Care offers comprehensive services for the full spectrum of musculoskeletal conditions. Our extensive group of orthopaedic physicians and staff develop comprehensive management and treatment plans for our patients, including some of the latest diagnostic and imaging technologies and the most advanced surgical techniques. Read More