BY LAUREN BRENTON | Clinical Midwifery Specialist | Childbirth Educator |

July 2022  

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that is common during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester.

The carpal tunnel is a small passage in the wrist where nerves and tendons pass from your arm into your hand and fingers. Hormonal changes are the most likely cause for carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy, causing the body to retain fluid and softening the ligament that forms the roof of the tunnel. This then squashes the median nerve (the nerve running through the tunnel) within the carpal tunnel in the hand. It is estimated that carpal tunnel syndrome impacts between 2-72% of pregnant women.

carpel tunnel sydrome and sore wrists and thumbs during pregnancy

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel can impact sensory and motor function in the hand and can include:

  • Tingling

  • Burning pain (often worse at night)

  • Weakness

  • Numbness

  • Swelling

  • Radiating pain into the arm and shoulder

The good news is that carpal tunnel syndrome usually resolves after the birth. But what can be done to help make life a little easier and more comfortable throughout the pregnancy.


Ways to improve carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms:

  • Wear a compression wrist sleeve which can help by keeping the wrist in a straight position reducing further aggravation as well as providing the necessary compression to bring the inflammation dow

  • Wear a wrist splint, especially at night to help keep your wrist straight

  • Steroid injections (dexamethasone)

  • Activity modification – avoiding positions of extreme flexion or extension of the wrists, heavy lifting or repetitive tasks

  • Avoiding exposure to vibration

  • Elevate your hand/hands

  • Avoid sleeping on the side of your most affected hand

  • Try to keep your wrists in a neutral (straight) position as much as you can

  • Perform regular fluid drainage massage and gentle exercises to reduce swelling

  • Rest, ice and elevate regularly

 How to do fluid drainage massage

Fluid drainage massage is a good technique to reduce swelling by encouraging the fluid to move towards your heart and then apply your compression wrist sleeve.

Elevate your affected hand, use your other hand to gently stroke your hand/arm from the fingertips towards your shoulder. Never stroke towards your fingertips.


de Quervain's tenosynovitis (mother’s wrist)

Similarly, to carpal tunnel syndrome is de Quervain's tenosynovitis (mother’s wrist) given its name as many new parents suffer from this condition due to the awkward hand positions required to hold and care for an infant. The pain comes from inflammation of the tendon that runs down the forearm, through to the wrist and thumb from repetitive strain on the tendon.

The pain caused by de Quervain's tenosynovitis is severe and hinders even the simplest of tasks (such as – bathing, changing or feeding a new baby).

 Symptoms include:

  • A snapping sound when moving the thumb
  • Swelling or tenderness of the thumb (radial) side of the wrist
  • Pain that radiates out to the thumb or forearm

Treatment for de Quervain's tenosynovitis

Treatment for de Quervain's tenosynovitis is very similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, with non-surgical treatments attempted first. These include:

  • Wearing a wrist compression sleeve to reduce inflammation and limiting extension and flexion of the wrist
  • Reducing or modifying activities to avoid extension and flexion of the wrist
  • Medications to reduce inflammation called NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • If none of these help after several weeks, then wrist surgery may be required


One Mama Midwife - Lauren Brenton

Clinical Midwifery Specialist | Childbirth Educator | Mama of 4 

Helping to educate, inspire & empower 


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