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What is carpal tunnel?
Carpal tunnel is a common side effect of pregnancy where women experience pain, tingling or numbness in their hands. It is caused by a build-up of fluid in the hands, which places pressure on the median nerve. The pressure on this nerve is what causes the feelings of tingling, pain and numbness in hands and fingers.
Carpal tunnel often occurs in the second or third trimester, and normally goes away during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth. For some women however, it can take up to a year after their baby has been born for the symptoms to disappear.
How does it affect me?
The symptoms of carpal tunnel include pain in your fingers and thumb, tingling or pins and needles in your thumb or fingers, a weakened grip, swelling and dry skin on your fingers and thumb, numbness of your fingers, and aching in your hands and arms.
What can I do about it?
Try not to sleep on your hands, and if you feel numbness or tingling during the night, shake your hands until it stops. Change your position in bed to increase circulation. During the day, avoid making repetitive hand movements. Some women find that making small circular movements occasionally with their wrists help ease symptoms, but other women find this makes them worse. See what works best for you.
Carpal tunnel can be worse at night, and sometimes affects how well you sleep. There is also a risk of permanent damage to the nerve. If you notice weakness in the muscles near your thumb or if carpal tunnel is affecting your sleep or your daily activities, visit your doctor. Your doctor may recommend a wrist splint to keep your wrist straight, minimising the symptoms of carpal tunnel and preventing damage to the nerve.
In severe and persistent cases of carpal tunnel, surgery may be required to correct the pressure being placed on the nerve. This is carried out under local anaesthetic and is a straightforward procedure. Alternatively, an injection of steroid can be injected into your wrist to relieve inflammation. The majority of cases of carpal tunnel disappear without any treatment however, and it is rare for surgery to be needed.