Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, becomes compressed at the wrist. This compression results in pain, numbness, and weakness, making daily tasks such as typing, writing, and even basic hand movements, incredibly challenging. CTS can have a significant impact on a person's quality of life, specifically during pregnancy.
Here is everything you need to know about carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a condition that occurs when the median nerve, which is responsible for controlling sensation and movement in the thumb, index, and middle fingers, is compressed as it passes through a narrow tunnel made of bones and ligaments in the wrist called the carpal tunnel.
The compression can result in pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness in the hand and wrist. Some people may experience symptoms that travel up their arm and into their shoulder. CTS is most commonly caused by a combination of factors, including repetitive hand motions, certain medical conditions such as diabetes and thyroid disease, and genetic factors. Women are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than men, specifically women who are pregnant.
If left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to permanent nerve damage, causing chronic weakness and loss of function in the affected hand. In severe cases, surgical intervention may be required to alleviate the symptoms. However, early diagnosis and intervention can help reduce the severity of symptoms and prevent long-term damage.
What Are The Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can vary in severity from mild to debilitating. Some common symptoms include:
- Pain in the hand and wrist, which may feel like aching, burning, or shooting pain
- Numbness and tingling in the thumb, index, and middle fingers
- Weakness in the hand, making it difficult to grip objects or perform everyday tasks
- A sensation of swelling in the hand, despite no visible signs of swelling
- Symptoms that worsen at night or when first waking up in the morning
- Pain that travels up the arm and into the shoulder
It is essential to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms, as early diagnosis and treatment can prevent the condition from worsening.
How Does Pregnancy Cause CTS?
According to UT Southwestern Medical Center, 31% to 62% of pregnant patients suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. This occurs due to the hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy. One of these hormones, called relaxin, causes the muscles, ligaments, and joints to relax and loosen in preparation for childbirth. This can lead to swelling in the wrists, which can put pressure on the median nerve, causing CTS.
Additionally, pregnancy can cause fluid retention, which can lead to increased pressure in the carpal tunnel. This can cause symptoms such as pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and wrist. Women who have a history of carpal tunnel syndrome or are predisposed to it may be more likely to experience it during pregnancy.
The good news is that CTS related to pregnancy typically resolves on its own after delivery as fluid levels in the body return to normal and hormone levels stabilize. In the meantime, physical therapy, hand and wrist splints, and other non-invasive treatments can help alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
De Quervain's Tenosynovitis (Mother's Wrist)
De Quervain's Tenosynovitis is a condition that involves inflammation of the tendons in the wrist and is often caused by repetitive activities that involve gripping and twisting motions. However, there is also a connection between this condition and pregnancy. During pregnancy, hormonal changes can cause the tendons in the wrist and hand to become looser, leading to increased pressure on the tendons and making them more susceptible to inflammation. This increased pressure can lead to pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the thumb and wrist, which are common symptoms of De Quervain's Tenosynovitis.
This condition can also arise from holding and lifting the baby, as well as performing repetitive tasks such as diaper changing, or carrying a car seat. Treatment during pregnancy may include rest, immobilization, heat or cold therapy, and physical therapy, while more severe cases may require surgery after delivery.
How Can CTS Be Treated?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) in pregnant women can be treated with non-invasive methods. First, women should try to avoid activities that can exacerbate the condition, such as typing for extended periods, lifting heavy objects, or engaging in activities that require repetitive hand movements. Changing positions frequently or taking frequent breaks from activities that cause discomfort can also help reduce symptoms. Wearing a wrist splint at night can help keep the wrist in a neutral position and reduce pressure on the median nerve, which can alleviate pain and tingling.
Additionally, physiotherapy exercises can help relieve symptoms and improve strength and flexibility in the wrist and hand. In severe cases, corticosteroid injections may be recommended to reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms. Carpal tunnel surgery is rarely necessary and is typically only required in cases of severe, long-term carpal tunnel syndrome.
If women are concerned about the possibility of CTS during pregnancy, they should speak to their healthcare provider, who can provide advice on symptom management strategies and treatment options.
At OAA Orthopedic Specialists, our team of hand specialists have first-hand experience treating carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnant patients whose testimonials support OAA's promises.
'During my pregnancy, I experienced tingling and numbness in my hands, mostly at night, and really had no idea as to the cause. After I gave birth, the tingling and numbness progressed to intense pain in my wrists, which made it difficult to lift my infant child. I was terrified that I might drop my son because of the pain in my wrists and hands. My obstetrician sent me to my primary care doctor, who thankfully had seen these symptoms in other pregnant women and women who recently gave birth. He referred me to OAA, and I was able to get an appointment in a matter of days. Dr. Battista was great and diagnosed me quickly. He gave me a series of steroid injections and referred me to hand therapy. The custom splints and hand exercises recommended by the hand therapist were very beneficial. I had immediate relief and was fully recovered, without surgery, in a few short months. I recommend OAA and Dr. Battista to any new mom!'
Overall, carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy is a common occurrence and can be treated with non-invasive methods. It is important for pregnant women to take the necessary steps to prevent CTS from becoming worse and seek medical advice if symptoms become unbearable. With proper care, this condition can be managed effectively and easily resolved after delivery with no long-term consequences.