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Pregnancy-Related Carpal Tunnel Is A Real Pain — Here's What You Can Do

by Cat Bowen

Being a professional writer and full-time student, I've grappled with the pains of repetitive use injuries like carpal tunnel. Yesterday, I woke up with such an ache across my neck and shoulder with tingling sensations in my fingers. I'd had it before, and wanted it gone. In pregnancy, treating nerve pain is harder — many of the meds are contraindicated for pregnancy, and simple pain relief is often out of your grasp. (No pun intended.) Determining how to relieve pregnancy carpal tunnel becomes paramount for your well-being if you're suffering from the painful condition.

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition wherein there is pressure on the median nerve at the wrist, and it causes a tingling or numb sensation spiderwebbing out from the point of pressure, according to The New York Hand and Wrist Center. Essentially a pinched nerve in the wrist, it is traditionally treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids, but NSAIDs are unsafe during pregnancy, and steroids are only safe for limited use during the third trimester, noted a study in The Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. Non-pharmacological methods for relief include splinting, therapy, stretching, and frequent breaks from activities that inflame the disorder, like typing and chopping. Swelling during pregnancy is the primary factor that contributes to the condition appearing other than genetic predisposition, so it's important to try to prevent the swelling before it becomes issue enough to press on the median nerve.

According to the doctors at The New York Hand and Wrist Center, carpal tunnel can cause pain, numbness, and grip issues, making your grasp weaker and slower to respond. The causes are varied and not well known, but during pregnancy, the increased fluid in your body, and the tendency to retain that fluid in the extremities like the hands and feet, cause the nerve to be pressed more easily and readily than during other points of your life.

In the case of pregnancy-related carpal tunnel, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, according to the American Society for Surgery of The Hand. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid fluid retention, avoid sleeping on your hands at night — a hard ask when you already have so many strictures on how you can and cannot sleep during pregnancy — and take frequent breaks from activities that cause the tingling and cramping to spike, like typing, cleaning, tennis, and chopping food. You should also be sure to stretch your hands multiple times per day. If you can minimize the incidences of swelling, then your nerve is less likely to be adversely affected.

According to the Mayo Clinic, poor posture is also a risk factor for carpal tunnel because it compresses the neck and spine, which affects the wrists and hands. Maintaining good posture during pregnancy is complicated at the best of times, and when you're in pain, it seems impossible. How to relieve pregnancy related carpal tunnel is tricky, but the Mayo Clinic had a few tips, like keeping your hands warm because cold hands are more likely to sense the nerve pressure, and keeping your hands and wrists level with splints.

If it gets too painful, there are some pharmacological remedies available in your third trimester, but it would be under the close supervision of your doctor. Also, some physicians will recommend physiotherapy, massage, acupuncture, and TENS machine therapy, but those are all under the banner of a prescribed action of a physician. While they may offer relief, they're not something you'd want immediate access to without their guidance.

CTS is a burden felt keenly by many pregnant women, and combined with all of the other quotidian annoyances of pregnancy, it can feel particularly debilitating. Talk to your OB-GYN, and they might refer you to an orthopedic surgeon or a physical therapist for further evaluation. It's incredibly annoying and inconvenient, but with splints and rest, it really can improve.

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