Carpal tunnel syndrome is a relatively common condition that causes pain, numbness burning or tingling sensation in the hand and fingers. Symptoms of CTS can range from mild to severe.
Cause of Carpal Tunnel:
In cases of CTS, the space inside the tunnel is made smaller by increased tissue pressure and a buildup of fluid in the tissue (oedema). This places pressure on the median nerve. The pressure is increased further when the wrist and fingers are bent (flexion). Compression of the median nerve causes the symptoms of pain and numbness.
CTS in Women:
Women often have their first brush with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome during pregnancy, most often during the second half.
- Hormonal changes and water retention during pregnancy causes fluid accumulation in the tissues.
- Pregnant women often crave salty or sodium rich foods, which can exacerbate water retention leading to CTS.
- Women can go into remission after pregnancy. At times the symptoms continue for several months or years afterwards.
Symptoms of CTS:
- Hand pain
- Hand numbness
- Tingling sensations in the fingers, hand and thumbs
- Pain shooting up the forearm
At times the pain can extend till the shoulders and neck as well. These symptoms are often most intense at night and result in sleep disturbance.
Diagnosis of CTS:
Clinical diagnosis supplemented by nerve conduction tests is used to diagnose CTS.
Treatment of CTS in pregnant women:
The conventional treatment options for carpal tunnel are not always possible during pregnancy. So, a conservative and non-invasive approach is taken towards relieving the pain, and to induce restful sleep that does not result in any systematic interference with the developing baby.
- Removable wrist splint (brace): The aim of the splint is to keep the wrist at a neutral angle without applying any force over the carpal tunnel so as to rest the nerve. This may cure the problem if used for a few weeks. A splint may be a bit cumbersome to use during the daytime. You can wear it only in the night. That is often sufficient to ease the symptoms.
- Localized steroid injections: They are administered if splints fail to work.
- Surgery: If non-invasive treatment methods fail then a small surgery done under local anaesthesia can cut the ligament over the front of the wrist and ease the pressure in the carpal tunnel. This usually cures the problem.
It is ironic that just as a woman needs her hands the most to prepare for the birth and care of a newborn baby, its use is inhibited by hand pain and symptoms associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Up to twenty percent of pregnant women will experience this debilitating syndrome at some point during their pregnancy. CTS that manifests during pregnancy often gets better within three months of delivery. However, in some women, symptoms can continue for over a year. CTS, if recognized early, can be treated effectively. However, if it is left untreated it can lead to chronic weakness of the hand, numbness and nerve damage.