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Pregnancy and the Carpal Tunnel

What is the Carpal Tunnel?

The carpal tunnel is a structure in the wrist formed by the wrist bones and a fibrous sheath of tissue. It contains a number of tendons which enable movement of the fingers and the median nerve which enables movement and sensation of the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)?

CTS occurs when the median nerve is compressed as it passes through the carpal tunnel. This can cause a range of symptoms including numbness, weakness, tingling and other abnormal sensation along with weakness in the thumb and first three fingers. These symptoms can range from irritating through to impacting significantly on day to day living.

What Causes CTS?

There are a range of potential causes of CTS, but the most likely cause in pregnancy is swelling in the tissues surrounding the nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel. This swelling (caused by the normal fluid retention that occurs in pregnancy) puts pressure on the nerve which then leads to the symptoms.

How can CTS be treated?

Treatment will depend on the severity of symptoms, but in pregnancy a conservative approach is usually taken. This will usually involve seeing a physiotherapist for assessment and fitting of a wrist splint/brace which is worn at night or occasionally during the day as well.

More rarely, steroid injections to reduce inflammation may be considered if splinting does not provide sufficient relief from the symptoms of CTS. Very rarely, surgery to release the pressure in the carpal tunnel may need to be performed if the symptoms are severe and not responding to conservative management.

Will CTS go away?

The good news is that in the majority of cases, CTS symptoms resolve after delivery as the excess fluid that has accumulated during the pregnancy is lost.

The above information doesn’t take the place of a medical consultation so please seek further advice if you have further concerns.

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