Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common source of wrist pain, affecting about 1-3 out of every 1,000 Americans. That’s a lot of people suffering from painful symptoms in their wrists and hands.
But as it turns out, if you're pregnant, your risk of developing CTS is much greater. Data show that as many as two-thirds of pregnant women report symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, like electricity-like bursts of pain, tingling, and numbness.
At his offices in Sugar Land and Houston, Texas, J. Michael Bennett, MD, PA, helps moms-to-be relieve their symptoms with carpal tunnel syndrome treatment that’s safe for mom and baby. If your pregnancy is causing you to have CTS symptoms, here’s how he can help.
Quick facts about carpal tunnel syndrome
To understand how carpal tunnel syndrome happens, it helps to know a little bit about wrist anatomy. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passage formed by the ligaments and bones in your wrist. This passageway is the conduit for the median nerve that provides sensations to a large part of your hand.
When the area around the carpal tunnel is irritated and inflamed, swelling compresses the nerve, causing pain, numbness, and related symptoms that radiate into your hand — a condition referred to as entrapment neuropathy. CTS is the most common type of entrapment neuropathy in the United States, accounting for 90% of all cases.
CTS symptoms are often aggravated by repetitive movements or when gripping an object. Repetitive movements, like typing, are a common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, eventually leading to tissue irritation and painful symptoms. CTS can also be caused by traumatic injuries, like wrist sprains or fractures or other medical issues, like diabetes or arthritis.
Pregnancy and carpal tunnel syndrome
Because women tend to have smaller wrists so they’re at greater risk of developing CTS than men. But pregnancy is also a risk factor for carpal tunnel syndrome, thanks to the changes your body undergoes when carrying a baby.
Swelling is one big reason why CTS risk increases during pregnancy. When pregnant, extra hormones cause you to retain fluids, resulting in swelling in your extremities. Most people think of swelling occurring in the feet and ankles, but it can happen in your hands and wrists. Swelling increases pressure on the carpal tunnel and the median nerve, leading to painful CTS symptoms.
Weight gain during pregnancy is another factor contributing to carpal tunnel syndrome. If you gain weight in your arms and wrists, that weight can increase the risk of median nerve compression.
And finally, during the later stages of pregnancy, your larger belly alters your posture. This change is a major cause of lower back pain, but it can also change how you use your wrists, causing irritation that eventually may lead to swelling and nerve compression.
Managing CTS symptoms during pregnancy
CTS can be very painful, but if your symptoms began during your pregnancy, there’s an excellent chance they’ll go away in the weeks and months following delivery. Until then, though, some simple treatment options can help.
First, it’s crucial to support the wrist when performing repetitive activities, like typing. Using a wrist rest and orienting your keyboard at a more comfortable height can help. Aim to locate your keyboard so that your forearms are roughly parallel to the floor.
When using your hands, work in plenty of breaks to avoid irritating the ligaments and surrounding tissues. Try adding these wrist and hand stretches to your daily routine. A few exercises spread throughout the day can help promote circulation and relieve swelling and fluid buildup in your hands.
Dr. Bennett may also recommend wearing a wrist splint. These comfortable devices support your wrist, preventing strain that can exacerbate painful symptoms. Over-the-counter medicines and wrist injections are other options to relieve painful symptoms.
Find relief for your painful CTS symptoms
Treating CTS during pregnancy requires a custom approach focused on your needs and the needs of your developing baby. Dr. Bennett has significant experience helping pregnant women relieve CTS symptoms using safe, time-tested therapies.
To learn how we can help you relieve your carpal tunnel symptoms, book an appointment online or over the phone with Dr. Bennett today.