Help! My hands are sore and they are starting to get pins and needles!
If you have tingling, numb and painful hands during pregnancy, it’s likely to be caused by carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). CTS is common in pregnancy; as many as 25 percent of women are afflicted with it during the last half of pregnancy. It happens when there is a build-up of fluid (oedema) in the tissues in your wrist. This swelling squeezes a nerve, called the median nerve, that runs down to your hand and fingers, causing tingling and numbness. You may also find your grip is weaker and it’s harder to move your fingers.
CTS is often worse in your dominant hand and in the first and middle fingers, though it may affect your whole hand. It may be particularly painful during the night and when you wake up in the morning, as the fluid builds up when you are still – even though it may not feel like you are still that much at night by this stage of pregnancy!
What does classic carpal tunnel syndrome look like?
♦ Numbness or pins and needles feeling in the fingers
♦ Pain and/or numbness that is worse at night or interrupts sleep
♦ Burning or tingling in your thumb, index, and middle fingers, or pain that moves up your arm to your elbow
♦ Hand weakness
♦ Difficulty gripping objects with the hands or dropping things
♦ Difficulty manipulating small objects
♦ Difficulty making a fist
♦ Swollen feeling in the fingers
The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your health professional for a diagnosis.
Why me? Isn’t Carpal tunnel an overuse problem?
You’re more likely to develop CTS if your family has a history of it, and if you’ve had any problems with your back, neck or shoulders. The median nerve passes the top of your ribcage before travelling down your arm. So a previous problem in this area, such as a broken collar bone or whiplash injury, or a poor breathing pattern increases your likelihood of having CTS. Some studies suggest that a higher pregnancy weight gain increases your risk of CTS. This is even more likely if you are expecting more than one baby, were overweight before your pregnancy began, or your breasts have become considerably bigger during pregnancy. This all puts extra strain on your shoulders, ribs and arms; often a considerable portion of the weight gain is fluid, meaning that your most vulnerable areas such as the median nerve are placed under pressure.
Can I get treatment that will help?
Yes, osteopaths are very good at figuring out where the underlying problem may be – as discussed it could be your wrist, shoulders neck or all of these areas. Advice for minimising fluid build-up in the wrist area is also important; this, you can discuss with your osteopath. Treatment always works best when the right diagnosis is made – not all wrist and hand pain comes from carpel tunnel. When the nerve is compressed at the wrist because of true fluid retentions, treatment would be likely to focus on improving fluid drainage including home management strategies. Conversely, a nerve compression from the pronator muscle at the front of the elbow would be treated by stretching and lengthening the pronator muscle group and improving the elbow mechanics.
How can I ease the pain of CTS myself?
You could place your hands in ice-cold water or use a bag of frozen peas against the painful area on your wrist. Exercises can also be useful, not just in the wrist area but through the chest and neck as well. Gently exercise your fingers and wrists to help move the excess fluid, and keep your hands raised whenever possible.
You should also cut back on activities that force your wrists into a flexed or bent-back position including typing, knitting, riding a bike, and holding very tightly on to the handles of exercise machines like treadmills. Reducing your salt intake can sometimes help with fluid retention and exercise in general, such as walking and swimming, helps improve the fluid flow throughout the body.
Will it get better on its own?
CTS is uncomfortable, but it’s not usually a serious condition. At least that is the spiel when you read about it. However we feel that it is a serious condition, in most part because of the upcoming demands of having a baby. If you were in a desk-based job with work-related CTS, you could schedule frequent breaks, regular ice packs, rest in the evenings and so on. However with a young baby, weak hands can be dangerous. If you feel like your grip is weakened, or you have pain to the level that you are unable to carry anything (never mind the groceries, we mean the baby!), then the first few months of parenthood will become pretty tricky. This is one of those things that is really worth getting right before your baby arrives. In most cases CTS will show signs of easing off on its own within three months of your baby’s birth as your weight and hormone levels start to return to normal, but those early days with baby are hard enough without having difficulties with your own hands as well.