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Pregnancy and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Summit Orthopedics hand and upper extremity surgeon J.P. Delaney, M.D., discusses why pregnant women are at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome — and what to do about it.

Pregnancy can be a joyous and exciting time. It can also come with increased aches and pains in surprising places, from heartburn to swollen feet. One of the most surprising conditions that can crop up during pregnancy is carpal tunnel syndrome.

“Many women will experience carpal tunnel symptoms during pregnancy, because of the increased fluid retention that happens,” Dr. Delaney said.

What is the carpal tunnel?

The carpal tunnel is a small space at the base of the wrist on the palm side. It houses the median nerve as well as nine tendons, all of which help to control the motion of the hand and fingers. Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when the median nerve gets compressed, causing irritation. Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand.

Pregnancy and carpal tunnel symptoms

During pregnancy, increased fluid retention can cause swelling throughout the body. The structures within the carpal tunnel — the median nerve and all of those tendons — also swell. However, the tunnel size can’t get any bigger. As a result, the nerve becomes compressed, irritating it each time the wrist bends or flexes.

Safe, effective treatments

But there is good news: there are effective, safe treatments. “The vast majority of carpal tunnel symptoms in pregnant women can be treated with bracing, which keeps the wrist in a neutral position,” Dr. Delaney said. He recommends wearing a wrist brace at night, in order to keep the wrist straight during sleep.

“Symptoms tend to be worse at night, because we all tend to tilt our wrists down during sleep. Nighttime bracing is effective for most people,” Dr. Delaney said. If symptoms crop up during specific activities during the day, such as while typing or driving, a brace can help during those activities.

If bracing does not relieve symptoms, or if symptoms are severe, there are other treatment options. One effective treatment is a steroid injection, delivered just to the carpal tunnel area, to decrease the inflammation at the site. Because it’s a local injection, the risk to mother and fetus is minimal.

Most women will experience relief from their symptoms after delivery. However, symptoms can continue through the breastfeeding period as well.

“It’s good to know that we have many effective options for treating carpal tunnel symptoms during pregnancy that are safe for mother and baby,” Dr. Delaney said.

Summit Orthopedics provides personalized hand and wrist expertise

The function of our hands connects through our wrists and arms to our shoulders; a problem anywhere along our arm may have a significant impact on hand function and quality of life. If you experience an injury or uncomfortable symptoms, our fellowship-trained hand and wrist surgeons are here to help. Summit physicians receive the highest levels of training and exclusively provide individualized care for conditions of the hand, wrist, and elbow.

Start your journey to better function and less pain. Find your hand expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNPlymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.

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