Fluid retention in the arms and wrists during pregnancy can lead to numbness and tingling. Find out more about what causes carpal tunnel in pregnancy and how to feel better.

pregnant woman on laptop
Credit: Ae Cherayut/Shutterstock

You've probably been warned that as your pregnancy progresses your back will hurt, your feet will swell, and your bladder will seem increasingly, well, pea-sized. Bet you never thought you'd add a case of carpal tunnel syndrome to the list. But if you've noticed a pins-and-needles sensation or numbness in one or both hands, a weakened grip, or even pain that radiates from your fingertips to your shoulders that intensifies when performing activities involving your wrists, join the crowd. As many as 25 percent of women are afflicted with carpal tunnel syndrome during the last half of pregnancy.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is the passageway between the wrist and hand that holds the median nerves and tendons responsible for flexing the fingers. During pregnancy, fluid retention (remember those swollen feet?) causes swelling, which can pinch the nerves in this space. The pinched nerves, in turn, send pain radiating from one end of the arm to the other.  "Just like feet and hands can swell in pregnancy, the 'tunnel' that the carpal nerve runs through can swell as well, putting pressure on it," explains Michael Broder, MD, author of The Panic-Free Pregnancy (Perigee). Don't worry though: Most cases subside within six months of giving birth.

How to Relieve Carpal Tunnel Pain During Pregnancy

Carpal tunnel discomfort is usually the worst at night or first thing in the morning, and if yours is disruptive or disabling, your physician may suggest that you wear wrist splints to bed. You should also cut back on activities that force your wrists into a flexed or bent-back position. "Typing, riding a bike, and holding very tightly onto the handles of exercise machines like treadmills, stair climbers, and elliptical trainers are the worst things you can do," says Linda LaRue, R.N., M.E.d., a Los Angeles-based athletic trainer who designed the workout featured here.

Easing up on or avoiding such activities and icing your wrists may bring some relief, as may reducing your sodium intake to keep your water weight down. LaRue's stretching and strengthening program also serves as a preventive measure. After all, the last thing you want right now is any ailment that might hinder your picking up your new baby.

Exercises For Pregnancy Carpal Tunnel

Do these three moves every day. (You may want to do them several times daily if you do a lot of computer work.) If possible, ice your wrists for 20 minutes after each session. If you feel any discomfort or pain, stop and consult your physician.

1. Wrist Extension

Stretch Hold your left hand out in front of you, wrist up, palm facing out. With your right hand, gently press against your left fingers, pushing them back toward your chest. Stop when you feel tension (but not pain) and hold for 15–20 seconds. Repeat twice on each hand.

2. Wrist Flexion Stretch

Hold your left hand up with your palm facing you. Place your right hand on the backs of your left fingers and gently push your fingers forward, toward your forearm. Stop when you feel tension; hold for 15–20 seconds. Repeat twice on each hand.

3. Wrist Rotation

Hold both hands out in front of you, palms facing each other, elbows bent and upper arms by your sides. Rotate hands upward 15 times, then downward 15 times, making sure the rotation is coming from the wrists, not the shoulders. When this is no longer challenging, do the same exercise while holding a 1-pound dumbbell in each hand.

American Baby