As mothers, we need to carry and cradle our babies all the time. However, hoisting baby from his cot, patting his back, even carrying baby barang like the heavy car seat can lead to serious strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.
You’ll feel a tingling sensation — like pins and needles — as well as pain, numbness and weakness around the wrists and hands. The term carpal tunnel refers to the small space in your wrist where the median nerve runs through. When you put pressure on this nerve, this can affect movements and sensations in your thumb, index, middle and ring fingers.
Incidentally, some of the actions you perform in early motherhood put you at higher risk of getting the condition. Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Leon Foo from Mount Elizabeth Hospital notes that a simple repetitive act of holding your baby’s milk bottle when you feed him, or when you scrub and wring the laundry can give rise to carpal tunnel syndrome, too.
When you feed your little one, use pillows of adequate height to prop up your cradling arm.
Pregnant mothers aren’t spared either. Thanks to water retention and not repetitive hand movements, they are at risk of developing the injury because of the pressure the swelling puts on the nerves. Diabetics — gestational or otherwise — hypothyroidism and inflammatory arthritis could also lead to the condition.
While surgical options are available, it should remain as a last resort. First, try to make simple changes to your daily activities to manage the discomfort. Dr Foo has several suggestions:
Avoid repetitive actions
Critically, patients MUST be disciplined in actively avoiding the repetitive activities that led to the condition, stresses Dr Foo. To manage the pain or swelling in the meantime, you can apply ice on your wrists or take anti-inflammatory pills. You can also manage or prevent the condition by wearing a wrist splint, he adds.
Mind your posture
Maintain the right posture to reduce your chances of injury and sustaining other related strains, aches and pains. When you feed your little one, use pillows of adequate height to prop up your cradling arm, notes Dr Foo. Other simple steps you can try include stretching and flexing your wrist regularly and avoid remaining in a fixed position for long periods of time.
Choose right-height furniture
Buy a diaper-changing table of an appropriate height and you will avoid bending forward, especially at an awkward angle. Cots are another common danger area ― Dr Foo advises that you choose those with side rails you can lower for easier access to baby. Incidentally at a later date, to prevent an older and more mobile tot from climbing out, you’ll need to lower the cot’s floor. This means that you will need to bend forward a lot more to compensate for the loss in height, which could cause you to strain your back, he warns.
TCM physician Lim Lay Beng says that carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by deficiencies of the spleen, poor blood circulation, as well as factors like “wind”, “heat”, “cold” and “dampness”. Insufficient qi or “life-force” ― the energy that supports all our bodily functions — is another possible cause.
When you sustain a sudden impact, or strain yourself carrying or lifting baby repeatedly, or place your arms in an awkward position while sleeping can also block your qi. This obstructs the flow of blood, which results in numbness in the fingers, says Lim of YS Healthcare.
However, a weak spleen is the main cause of the limb’s poor muscle condition, Lim adds. Poor blood circulation ― from an accumulation of phlegm and “dampness” ― can trigger swelling of the carpal tunnel. To dispel “wind”, “heat” or “dampness” and ease wrist pain, ask your physician about these procedures:
This is often prescribed if you are diagnosed with poor blood circulation. Of the 14 meridian points spread across one’s body, the heart meridian is the one that is related to the syndrome. Your physician will apply acupuncture needles at the relevant acupressure points to ease blood circulation issues.
Poor blood circulation ― from an accumulation of phlegm and “dampness” ― can trigger swelling of the carpal tunnel.
In this common treatment procedure, massage is used to stimulate acupressure points and meridians and relieve muscle aches and pains. Lim says tui na can help to strengthen the organs and help resolve carpal tunnel syndrome.
Ingredients like herbs and alcohol are put inside a small glass cup and then lit by your physician before the cup is placed on your skin. Lim says that cupping can be localised at the wrists to treat the condition.
Herbs are burned and placed on top of the acupuncture points. Your physician may sometimes leave the herb to burn out on top of your skin or extinguish it before it burns out completely — both methods give off a pleasant heat. This is another procedure that strengthens the organ, Lim explains.
You can also check with your doctor regarding do-it-yourself treatments to try, she suggests. These include stretching exercises on the fingers, hands, arms and neck to enhance the wrist’s blood circulation. Heat pads, a warm herbal soak and light massages can help to overcome the body’s “wind” or “dampness”.
Meanwhile, wear a wrist splint to prevent further injury to the area. Also, take regular breaks when you spend long periods doing repetitive activities like typing on a keyboard. Use an ergonomic keyboard with a foam or gel wrist support, Lim advises.
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