Why Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Often Occurs During Pregnancy and How to Alleviate the Pain

When you think of carpal tunnel syndrome, you probably don’t think of pregnancy. However, several factors beyond repetitive motion can increase your chances of developing this condition, especially when you’re pregnant.

At Orthopaedic Care Specialists, Thomas F. Saylor, MD, brings his expertise as a gifted orthopedic surgeon to men, women, and children in North Palm Beach, Florida. He offers these insights into carpal tunnel syndrome and pregnancy, along with ways to find relief without surgery.

Carpal tunnel syndrome basics

Your median nerve runs all the way from your neck, down your arm, and into your fingers. This nerve helps your thumb move and provides sensation to your fingers and palm. 

To reach your hands, your median nerve has to pass through a slim channel in your wrist — the carpal tunnel — which is formed by delicate bones and ligaments. If the nerve gets squeezed or irritated in this passageway, it can become inflamed or swollen. This reaction, known as carpal tunnel syndrome, can causes uncomfortable symptoms in the fingers or hands, including: 

While carpal tunnel syndrome affects 4% of the general population, it affects anywhere from 31-62% of pregnant women.

Carpal tunnel syndrome and pregnancy

Many people usually associate the workplace or poor ergonomics with carpal tunnel syndrome. However, other factors can lead to this condition, and these factors can be exacerbated in pregnancy.


Whether pregnant or not, women are already more likely to have problems with carpal tunnel syndrome. This could be due to anatomical differences, because women usually have a smaller carpal tunnel than men. 

Fluid retention

Fluid retention is a common problem for women who are pregnant or in menopause. As excess fluid accumulates in the body, it can increase tightness in the carpal tunnel and press against the median nerve.

Being overweight or obese

Carrying excess weight always increases your chances of carpal tunnel syndrome. However, pregnant women considered overweight or obese experience carpal tunnel syndrome more often than expectant mothers who have a healthy weight.

Pregnancy-related health issues

Several gestational health conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, can trigger both swelling and fluid retention. Plus, having elevated blood sugar levels can also increase inflammation in your body and carpal tunnel, which can put pressure on your median nerve

Past pregnancies

If you’ve had other children, you could have higher levels of the hormone relaxin in your system. This hormone helps prepare the body for childbirth, but it can also lead to carpal tunnel inflammation and result in median nerve irritation.

Finding relief for carpal tunnel syndrome

The good news is that carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms typically disappear within a few weeks or months after delivery. However, 1 in 6 women have symptoms for a year after giving birth.

Fortunately, there are ways to find relief during and after pregnancy that don’t involve surgery. Dr. Saylor recommends trying a variety of approaches, including:

If conservative treatments don’t give you relief, Dr. Saylor might recommend minimally invasive surgery to repair damaged nerves and blood vessels to restore healthy hand and wrist function.

To learn more about carpal tunnel syndrome and pregnancy or to get treatment, book an appointment online or over the phone with Orthopaedic Care Specialists today.

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