About 25 percent of pregnant women experience carpal tunnel syndrome, an inflammation of the nerve inside the narrow tunnel-like space that runs from the wrist into the palm.
Although the nerve is usually injured by repetitive motion, such as typing, the culprits in pregnant women are hormones and swelling as blood volume increases to support the growing fetus.
As the amount of fluid builds with each trimester, symptoms -- numbness, pain, or tingling sensations in the fingers -- can progress from mere discomfort to debilitation. Carpal tunnel syndrome may interfere with such activities as writing, driving, and sleeping. "At night, people tend to flex their wrist, narrowing the space within the already swollen carpal tunnel," says Jeffrey Gross, M.D., director of Union Square Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, in New York City.
To ease discomfort:
- Elevate your hands on a separate pillow when you go to sleep; that will keep you from lying on them. If your hand is numb when you wake up, hang it over the edge of your bed, and shake it vigorously.
- Use a flexible wrist support of breathable fabric (available at most drugstores without a prescription).
- Get an injection of a cortico-steroid into the carpal-tunnel area for short-term relief. (It's safe for the fetus, says Dr. Gross, but double-check with your ob-gyn.)
The good news: Swelling eases within two weeks of delivery. But you may want to hold on to that splint -- women who've had carpal tunnel syndrome during their first pregnancy usually experience it during the next.