Why do pregnant women get carpal tunnel syndrome?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)
You're flooded with hormones that help the uterus grow, but your body doesn't have some off-on switch that allows you to pick and choose which parts of your body respond to them. So as your uterus grows, so do a lot of other tissues. In most parts of your body, that's not a huge problem. But think about your wrists and forearms. In such a narrow area, the tissues swell and compress the nerves. That's when you feel the shooting, paralyzing pains. Surgery isn't necessary in most pregnancy-related carpal tunnel cases, and splinting your forearms usually helps control the pain. After pregnancy, the condition promptly goes away within a few weeks in at least two-thirds of women.
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Dr. Rachel Rohde, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Women develop carpal tunnel syndrome at least three times more commonly than men. The reason for this is unknown but currently a topic of research. It has been proposed that the "swelling" we have during pregnancy—particularly in the third trimester—causes pressure on the nerve. However, many women develop this early in pregnancy (or even when they are using hormonal contraception). Women also develop it around and after menopause. It is suspected that there are genetic and hormonal reasons for this that go beyond "swelling."

Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can be treated during pregnancy. Splinting and (in some cases) corticosteroid injections into the carpal canal can provide relief. If you are pregnant and have symptoms, discuss the options with your OB or ask for a consultation with a hand specialist.

Dr. Prosper A. Benhaim, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

Carpal tunnel syndrome is frequently associated with pregnancy, with as high as 60 percent of pregnant women developing carpal tunnel syndrome. This most commonly occurs in the third trimester of the pregnancy. The most likely cause is edema or swelling within the carpal tunnel, causing secondary compression of the median nerve. The edema that develops within the carpal tunnel is likely related to hormonal changes associated with pregnancy, but can also be exacerbated by gestational diabetes and fluid shifts associated with the later stages of pregnancy. Women who develop diabetes during pregnancy are at higher risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy. Most women with pregnancy related carpal tunnel syndrome will have resolution of symptoms after delivery.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.