Mother and Baby

Pregnancy Health A-Z: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Is no body part safe from the side effects of pregnancy? If your hands and wrist are the latest victim, you could have carpal tunnel syndrome.

Sometimes it seems no stone is left unturned when it comes to your body changing during pregnancy. Some women don’t even get away with it in their hands and wrists. Find out more about carpal tunnel syndrome.

What is it?

The carpal tunnel is a space that runs between your wrist and the bottom of your palm. ‘During pregnancy, you tend to retain fluid which can cause swelling, especially in your hands and feet,’ says Dr Philippa Kaye, author of Your Pregnancy Week By Week. ‘This fluid retention then puts pressure on the carpal tunnel space, squeezing the median nerve that runs through the space and causing numbness or a tingling sensation.’

And it’s fairly common, affecting around 60% of pregnant women, according to a 2010 study in the British Medical Journal.

What are the symptoms?

Carpal tunnel syndrome can start with tingling in your hand and fingers and numbness. It could feel like pins and needles or a burning sensation in your thumb, index finger, middle finger, and the side of your ring finger nearest to your thumb. Your grip may also feel weak.

‘Repetitive movements, such as the ones you make when using a mouse at a computer, can worsen symptoms,’ says Philippa. Carpal tunnel syndrome can appear at any time but tends to begin in the second and third trimesters.

What can you do?

In many cases, you may find carpal tunnel syndrome will disappear after you give birth and the swelling in your hands has subsided. If you feel pain in your hands, try shaking them until the tingling reduces.

‘Flexing your wrists and fingers regularly throughout the day may also help,’ says Philippa. ‘As carpal tunnel is a side effect of swelling, avoid eating too much salt as that can cause water retention.’

Try including foods that help flush out excess fluid, such as onions, celery and aubergine. For more serious cases, your GP may refer you to a physiotherapist, who can fit you with a special wrist splint. This will keep it in a straight position to ensure the carpal tunnel space isn’t squashed further.

When to see your GP

Your GP can help if your symptoms seem to be getting worse and interfere with your sleep or daily life. ‘If the swelling in your hands comes on suddenly and is accompanied by headaches or dizziness, go straight to your GP or midwife for a blood check to make sure it’s not pre-eclampsia,’ says Philippa.

You may also like
Related content: