Not my typical topic, huh? I know! But, I’ve been hit hard with pregnancy induced carpal tunnel in this pregnancy and in looking for solutions, many of you are struggling, too!
I want to share with you everything I’ve tried as well as what worked best, what only helped a little and what didn’t make a flip bit of difference. Of course, every human is different so don’t assume that what didn’t work for me won’t work for you or that what did work for me will work for you.
Let’s start with the basics, shall we?
What is pregnancy induced carpal tunnel?
Basically, it’s a range of symptoms impacting the hands, wrists and arms ranging from numbness and tingling to extreme pain caused by increased pressure on the nerves in these areas.
Some people just experience annoying numbness, which is how mine started, but it can progress to the point that it’s too painful to wash your hair or hold a pen (what mine progressed to).
It’s fairly normal to have a moderate amount of fluid retention during pregnancy, especially through the third trimester. However, this fluid can create pressure that leads to pain, as is the case in pregnancy induced carpal tunnel.
My experience with pregnancy induced carpal tunnel
I didn’t experience severe carpal tunnel during my first pregnancy in 2019-2020. I had some uncomfortable numbness and tingling in my wrist and hands at night, but it didn’t progress beyond a minor annoyance.
My second pregnancy (2020-2021) has been a very different story. Late in the second trimester, the discomfort from numbness and tingling started to wake me up every 30-40 minutes. It seemed that once I sat or stood up, the discomfort would subside. So, I started sleeping downstairs in a chair. It helped for a couple weeks but then the numbness and tingling turned to pain and the sitting position provided no relief.
The pain radiated through my fingers and up to my elbow. It was significant enough that I wasn’t able to sleep for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. Once the pain woke me, it could take hours to get back to sleep.
For a while, it seemed that the pain would subside in the morning and I could go about my usual activities. Once into the third trimester, the pain lingered throughout the day. I had a hard time holding a pen or a coffee cup. Putting my hair up became difficult. I was constantly trying to shake my hand out to get some relief.
Fortunately, after 4-5 really challenging weeks experimenting with different solutions, I found something that worked well. It hasn’t eliminated the condition, but the pain has gone from extreme to mild and it’s only disrupting my sleep 2-3 times a night instead of constantly throughout the night.
As I said, however: please know that my experience might not be yours so try everything and let me know what helps you!
Keeping my arms elevated at night – A common suggestion on the interwebs is to prop your arms up at night and ensure that your wrists stay as straight as possible. I stacked pillows on my belly/chest and rested my arms there. While it didn’t make anything worse, it didn’t help either. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to ensure that your hands don’t move or fall down off the pillows when you’re sleeping. This didn’t help me at all. I have heard from podcast listeners that this helped them.
Wraps and braces – Both during the day and overnight I tried several different hand wraps, gloves and braces. We easily spent $100 or more on a handful of different options. They provided no relief. I have heard from podcast listeners that this helped them.
Mildly Effective Approaches
Dry brushing – If I had to rank these “mildly effective” approaches, dry brushing would come out on top as most effective in this category. A dry brush is super affordable on Amazon and very easy to use. As the name suggests, you brush your dry skin. A quick Google search will give you a million free example videos, but you probably won’t need them. In short, you take the little brush and you sweep upwards from your fingertips toward the top of your arm. Dry brushes are used primarily to get fluid moving your body. Since pregnancy induced carpal tunnel is largely a fluid pressure issue, it makes sense that it works reasonably well. I kept my dry brush on my bedside table and before bed, I’d brush both arms for about 1 minute each. If I woke up with pain, I’d grab the brush and repeat. This did not eliminate the pain but it did seem to minimize it. If I had to quantify the impact, I’d say dry brushing gave me a 15-20% improvement.
Chiropractic care – I think seeing a chiropractor is super helpful for all pregnancy aches and pains – carpal tunnel is no exception. Think about it. Your body is constantly changing. You have new pressures all over and your physical body literally reorganizes to make space for your growing baby. I told my chiropractor about the carpal tunnel and he started adjusting my wrists and elbows. Think about it – if you have a minor misalingment, it can impair blood flow. If I had to guess, I’d say my visits to the chiro helped by about 10%.
Acupuncture – I hate needles. I have always hated needles. However, one of the theories behind acupunture is that it opens up channels that run throughout your body. I told my acupuncturist that I was having trouble with carpal tunnel and she targets points in my wrists and arms. I’d say it was about as helpful as the chiropractor.
Massage – my poor husband has been asked to run my hands more times than we can count. While this has provided absolutely no long term relief or improvement, it does offer momentary help. Honestly though, hand massages just feel nice so I’ll keep requesting these whether they help or not.
Wildly Effective Approaches
Very low carb diet – I stumbled upon this one. I haven’t seen it recommended for carpal tunnel relief but it makes a ton of sense. Carbohydrates are like little sponges. They hang onto water in the body. One single gram of carbohydrate hangs onto about 4 grams of water. You do the math – if you’re eating 100-400 grams of carbs a day, that’s a lot of water. Have you ever dropped a ton of weight in the first few days of a low carb diet? It’s almost all water. Given that pregnancy induced carpal tunnel is largely an issue of the pressure caused by water retention, I’m not surprised at all that this has been so incredibly effective.
I’m generally not a big carbohydrate eater – I tend to feel better with lower carbs. However, I’m more liberal with carb consumption in pregnancy so I had room for improvement. By chance, I happened to have a very low carb day and that night, I had almost no pain in my hands and arms! I still had some numbness and tingling but it was enough of an improvement for me to experiment. I intentionally ate low carb for 3 days and continued to see a dramatic decrease in pain. Over the weekend, I added back in some carbs (a cupcake, a banana, and even some pancakes) and sure enough I had a miserable night with pain that kept me from sleeping.
Eating low carb has never been easier because I’d do just about anything to avoid the pain and discomfort! It hasn’t been a 100% improvement but it’s easily been a 70-80% improvement! Of course, that’s not saying that you’d have the same experience. We are all different.
I haven’t gone “no carb” (after all, vegetables are carbohydrates and I love me some cabbage) but I have intentionally limited them. Here’s an average day for me:
Breakfast: protein shake with a low carb protein powder, unsweetened almond milk, 1/2 a banana, nut butter, flax seeds and greens powder.
Lunch: cabbage salad bowl with raw red & green cabbage, diced bacon, avocado, goat cheese and egg
Dinner: Beanless chili or another combo of meat and non-starchy veggies
Snacks: full fat greek yogurt or cheese
I still have a couple months to go in this pregnancy so I know my experience might change and I’ll be sure to update this post if it does! In the meantime, remember that your experience will be different from mine so try all of the things and do what works for you!