You are pregnant. While typing out your latest status update, you notice a tingling or numbness in your wrists, hands or fingers. You may even notice a dull ache. Throughout the day, these symptoms come and go. At night, the pain seems to get worse. The discomfort may extend to forearm and upperarm. Your hands or wrists may even feel weak or clumsy. Consult your health care provider. You may have pregnancy induced Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
The carpal tunnel is a bony canal formed by the wrist bones on three sides and a ligament that runs across the wrist on the other side. During pregnancy, fluid retention may put pressure on this very narrow and inflexible region. It usually affects women during the second half of their pregnancy when the hormones in the body encourage fluids in the body accumulate. This could lead to swelling in the wrists, which, when combined with poor posture, creates tension in the shoulders. The repetitive motion activities we all engage in, such as typing on a keyboard, can lead to carpal tunnel discomfort. The extra fluid in these regions can compress the median nerve that runs through the carpal tunnel. This is the nerve that gives feeling to the thumb, the index, middle, and half of the ring finger. It is also responsible for movement of a muscle at the base of the thumb. It can be painful.
Focus on your posture. Notice if you are drawing your shoulders forward while working at a desk. Notice if you tend to jut your chin forward. Try to pinpoint what sorts of activities aggravate the pain, then avoid or modify those activities, when possible. Your physician may suggest a hand or wrist brace, which helps with the alignment of the carpal tunnel. Gentle exercise, drinking enough water, and eating a low sodium diet are some ways to help reduce fluid retention which contribute to this condition.
Prenatal yoga can provide the exercise the body needs to increase circulation and help move fluid through the body. In my prenatal yoga classes, I commonly teach postures that help reduce tension in the muscles of the arm, hands and wrists. I like to emphasize being mindful of your posture, something that you can bring to your work space and daily life, which will, in turn, alleviate symptoms. The movements we use in my prenatal yoga class can help you correct and maintain good posture through your pregnancy. Stretches and postures learned in class can help decrease tension in the shoulders, neck and arms, which may help prevent fluid from gathering in these regions. There are simple movements that you can incorporate into your day that just take a moment or two. Stretching the fingers out wide with the palms open will feel good and and is beneficial. You can lift the arms and make gentle circles with the wrists. Keeping the chest lifted, while the shoulders relax will keep tension from creeping into the upper back. Some simple chest and back openers as described in this post can also help.
If you already have carpal tunnel, avoid placing the wrists at a ninety degree angle. Some yoga postures that apply pressure to the wrists, such as downward facing dog, may not be advisable. Hands and knees postures, which can be beneficial in many ways, may be modified by placing a loose fist on the floor instead of a flat palm. Always listen to your body!
One of the best ways to find relief for pregnancy induced carpal tunnel syndrome is through massage. An experienced prenatal massage therapist familar with carpal tunnel, can massage away the pain, flushing the fluids from the affected areas, providing you with much needed relief. Rachel, one of the certified massage therapists and yoga instructors who works out of the Hilltop Yoga studios, says that massage for pregnancy induced carpal tunnel syndrome can encourage fluids to flow back into the lymphatic tissues. When fluid retention subsides, so does the pain.
It is important to keep your health care provider aware of any changes in your body and health when pregnant, especially those that bring you discomfort. Always be mindful and keep in tune to what’s happening inside. Remain conscious and remember to keep breathing in, deep and full!
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