How does carpal tunnel syndrome affect pregnancy?


Carpal tunnel syndrome (or CTS) is common among women, especially when pregnant. The carpal tunnel is a small bony canal that forms part of the wrist bone. It is at this junction where blood vessels and nerves from the fingers and thumb pass through from the hand to the arm.

Normal fluid retention of pregnancy can cause swelling of the wrist cells, and this in turn puts pressure on this small and inflexible canal. The result is reduced blood flow, pain in the wrists (even more so at night) or a pins and needles sensation in the fingers.

CTS can also weaken hands and give pregnant women “dropsy” – when things suddenly drop out of your hands.

While CTS is not dangerous for mom or baby, it can be worrying, painful and frustrating. It will improve after the birth, but this may take some time.

Read: I have pains and cramps. What can I do?

Help is on the way

While CTS can’t be avoided or stopped with a pill, there are some things you can do to bring some relief:

  • Don’t strain your wrists. Keeping them straight and supported can help (even though it is quite a difficult to do this when you’re busy or working).
  • Splinting the wrist joint during the day helps. Splints are available at pharmacies and are not expensive.
  • Change the way you do things at work and at home. Let other people pick up the heavy things for you. Sit straight and comfortably when working at your desk or computer and make sure your hands are in line with your wrists.
  • Make a cool poultice for sleeping at night. Ask your chemist how or simply bandage a raw cabbage leaf onto your wrists. Not only will this remind you to keep your wrist straight while you sleep, it can also help to reduce the swelling. Arrange your pillows in such a way that there is no pressure on your shoulder.
  • Speak to your doctor about exercising your wrist. For example, make your hand into a fist and then spread your fingers while gently moving your wrist forwards and backwards.
  • Hold your hand up and stroke from fingertips to your shoulder – in this direction only.
  • Try not to hang your arms and hands at your sides.
  • Natural remedies include the tissue salts Nat mur and Nat sulph to improve the swelling, Ferrum phos for burning pain and Kali phos to help regenerate and heal nerve injury. Speak to your pharmacist or homeopath about these.
  • Severe, disabling CTS may need steroid injections – but this is very rare.

Also read: Breastfeeding benefits... for you!

Breastfeeding concerns

After birth, a woman with CTS may find it painful to hold her baby and breastfeed. Sit up straight with a pillow on your lap to support the baby or lie on your side with a pillow behind your back and another between your knees.

The baby should be facing your breast to feed and should also be supported with a small rolled-up blanket behind baby’s back.

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