Pregnancy is a time when many physiological changes take place in the mother’s body and therefore give rise to symptoms which last only until the baby is delivered. In most instances, the numbness in the hands or the feeling of ‘pins and needles’ in the hands and fingers is a similar symptom. It usually settles following the delivery of the baby although it can cause significant discomfort during the pregnancy to certain mothers. Doctors recognize this symptom as part of a condition known as the ‘carpal tunnel syndrome’, which can manifest in anyone although the incidence among pregnant mothers is rather high.
What happens in carpal tunnel syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is a small gap between a tight band of tissue and the bones in the wrist through which the median nerve travels to the hand. When the tissues cushioning the tunnel swell due to retained fluids, as in the case of pregnancy, the nerve can get compressed from time to time. As the median nerve is responsible for sensory supply to the larger part of the fingers and the palm, a compression over the nerve can be felt as a tingling sensation, numbness and sometimes as a pain. The collection of these symptoms is what is known as the carpal tunnel syndrome.
When do carpal tunnel symptoms manifest in pregnant mothers?
The condition could become apparent from the second trimester of the pregnancy although it can progress or worsen until the delivery of the baby. Furthermore, the symptoms may be worse during the night, after a prolonged day’s activity, following outdoor activities in the heat as well as when one sleeps on the hands. At the same time, high sodium intake, lack of potassium and increased consumption of caffeine can also worsen the symptoms in carpal tunnel syndrome.
How is it treated?
As it is a self limiting condition during pregnancy, doctors are not willing to operate and relieve the pressure over the median nerve when the symptoms can be managed through other means. Thus, behavioral adjustments such as avoiding excessive consumption of caffeine, avoiding sleeping on the hands, keeping the wrist splinted during sleep, drinking enough water, avoiding activities in the heat, keeping the hands and the elbow in the same level when working with a computer or a typewriter as well as cold compressing the painful joint are some methods of relieving the numbness.
At the same time, anti-inflammatory agents such as ibuprofen can also be used to relieve the pain associated with this condition. Similarly, if the pain and the other discomforts do not subside to these treatments, a corticosteroid injection in to the joint or surgical means can be used as the last line of management.