Coping with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Coping with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

As a woman's body changes to accommodate a new life during pregnancy, any number of physical dilemmas may develop. One that can be particularly distressing is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This syndrome is characterized by pain, weakness, or numbness in the hands, wrists and forearms. It can be especially annoying when women who complain to their health care givers receive the common response, "It's normal. The pain should go away after the baby is born." While Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is indeed a common, usually temporary occurrence in pregnancy, such a response is small comfort when being kept awake at night by very real pain.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome occasionally affects pregnant women because of the swelling they may experience. Edema, even in small amounts, can put pressure on the median nerve which runs through the "tunnel" of bones and ligaments in the wrist. The resulting pain may be sporadic or constant, mild or severe. Can anything help relieve the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome without hurting the unborn baby? The following suggestions may provide relief for your clients:

- Elevate the hands to reduce swelling

- Try to keep the wrists straight. At night women should avoid curling hands as they sleep. Instead, they should be encouraged to make an effort to keep hands extended and free of pressure.

- It has been found that certain occupations (grocery cashier, computer keyboard typist, for example) result in a high incidence of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, even for people who are not pregnant. If women who work in at-risk occupations are having problems, they may want to alter what they do at work until after they give birth.

- Splints designed to keep wrists straight are frequently successful. (Until recently it was thought that exercises which flex or rotate the wrist may help reduce swelling, but according to a University of California at Berkeley study, those movements are now discouraged. They could actually worsen the condition.)

After the baby is born, the pain should gradually diminish within a short time. If the pain persists, cortisone treatments may provide relief, or surgery may ultimately be necessary to relieve pressure on the nerve. Clients may want to ask their health care providers for an evaluation of their specific case, or they can seek advice from an orthopedic surgeon.

It is discouraging to have pregnancy marred by a painful situation such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. If nothing provides relief, relaxation and labor comfort techniques may be helpful.


University of California at Berkeley, Wellness Letter. 1991. Carpal tunnel syndrome, computer operators, homemakers, and exercisers can get it (April): 7.

ICEA, Inc.


By Jill Delaney

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