Pregnancy: Pain and numbness in the hands

Pregnancy: Pain and numbness in the hands
Pain and numbness in the hands occurs mostly in the third trimester and mainly at night.


About one-third of women experience pain and numbness in their hands during pregnancy, especially at night and first thing in the morning. These symptoms are most common in the third trimester and usually go away within a few weeks after delivery.

Probable causes

Pain and numbness in the hands during pregnancy is caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. The carpal tunnel is a small space formed by the wrist bones. One of the nerves responsible for movement and feeling in the fingers passes through this tunnel.

If the tunnel narrows, the nerve becomes compressed, causing numbness in the hands. During pregnancy, fluid buildup in the tissues is common, and the resulting swelling decreases the space in the tunnel.

Carpal tunnel syndrome generally affects both hands, and certain fingers—the thumb, the index finger, the middle finger, and half of the ring finger—tend to be more sensitive. For some people, the numbness extends to the arms. The pain can also be severe enough to wake them during the night, and their fingers may appear swollen. In addition, carpal tunnel syndrome can make it difficult to grip objects and to perform tasks requiring particular dexterity.

Treatment

  • Avoid non-essential manual tasks and rest your hands and wrists. To reduce swelling, prop up your hand and forearm with a towel or pillow. Avoid positions where the wrist is bent or fully extended.
  • Wear a splint to help keep your wrist straight, especially at night.
  • Ice your wrist for about 10 minutes or run cold water over it. Another option is to alternate applying heat and cold every minute, for 5–6 minutes, three to four times a day.
  • Do the following exercises to help stretch and strengthen the muscles in your hands and arms:
    - Keeping your fingers straight, bend the hand up and down at the wrist. Repeat 10 times.
    - Make a fist and then stretch out your fingers. Repeat 10 times.
    - Touch your thumb to each finger one at time to make an O shape.

Prevention

  • If your work involves repetitive movements, take frequent breaks.
  • Vary manual tasks.
  • Make sure you maintain good posture at work and throughout the day.

Things to keep in mind

  • Pain and numbness in the hands during pregnancy happens when a nerve in the wrist gets compressed.
  • Wearing a wrist splint, especially at night, can help ease symptoms.
  • To prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, avoid repetitive movements and poor hand and arm postures.
  • Symptoms usually go away a few weeks after delivery.

 

Naitre et grandir.com

Scientific review: Dr. Chantal Ouellet, physician
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: March 2020

Photo: iStock/RuslanDashinsky

 

Sources

Please note: Hyperlinks to other websites are not updated regularly, and some may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, use search engines to find the information you’re looking for.

  • Ablove, Robert H., and Tova S. Ablove. “Prevalence of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Pregnant Women.” Wisconsin Medical Journal, vol. 108, no. 4, 2009, pp. 194–196.
  • Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec. www.inspq.qc.ca
  • HealthLink BC. “Pregnancy: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.” www.healthlinkbc.ca
  • Ordre professionnel de la physiothérapie du Québec. “Le syndrome du tunnel carpien.” oppq.qc.ca
  • University Hospital Southampton – NHS Foundation Trust. Patient information factsheet: Carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy.