Wrist pain in pregnancy? Find out why this happens and what you can do about it.
What’s going on?
Wrist pain in pregnancy is commonly caused by irritation of the median nerve as it passes through the wrist. This is also referred to as “carpal tunnel syndrome”. Pain is often felt at the front of the wrist and hand. Sometimes women experience tingling, numbness or weakness along with pain. Pain is often worse at night or first thing in the morning and will often improve with movement such as flicking your hands.
Why does it happen in pregnancy?
Hormonal changes in pregnancy cause fluid retention which reduces the space within the wrist. Because there is only a limited amount of space, as fluid increases it can begin to compress the nerve against the bony wrist tunnel. When there is too much pressure on this nerve the body produces a sensation of pain to get your attention. If there is further pressure on the nerve you may feel this as tingling or pins and needles and in some cases the muscles of the hand lose strength.
How do I fix it?
The good news is your physio can help improve pain and keep your wrist functioning during this time. It’s important to treat it as soon as your notice symptoms appear to ensure it doesn’t get worse during the pregnancy. Keeping the fluid moving through the tunnel in the wrist is the most important thing to remember to reduce pain.
Avoid positions or activities that exacerbate your symptoms. Reduce heavy lifting or repetitive movements. Heavy lifting , especially with lots of gripping activities, causes pressure to build up around the wrist and forearm, which can further irritate the nerve.
Wear a night brace to keep your wrist in a neutral position which basically means the tunnel will stay open and fluid can flow more freely. Sometimes wearing a compression bandage or tubigrip can prevent the swelling from building up in the first place. A brace through the day can help the tunnel stay open and remind you not to overuse your wrist (ask your physiotherapist for further information about obtaining a brace).
Elevate your hand(s) to help drain swelling away from the wrist regularly throughout the day. Reach your hands above your head, make a fist and then spread your fingers out again. Repeat 10 times. Next bend and straighten your elbows 10 times.
Apply ice (wrapped in towel) over your wrist for 10-15 minutes every couple of hours (Note: Do not place the ice directly on your skin). Running cold water over your wrist can also be helpful for the pain.
What else could help?
Reduce general swelling by eating less salty food and having regular periods of horizontal rest, which assists with postural drainage of excess fluid. Elevating your legs when sitting and continuing to elevate your hands wherever possible throughout the day is also key.
Written by Jane Rothe, Women’s Physiotherapist at myPhysioSA Payneham and O&G in North Adelaide.