Pregnancy affects the body in different ways that may result in joint pain after the baby is born. For example, fluid retention may cause carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes pain in the finger joints, while carrying a baby can put pressure on the knees.
The exact cause of the pain could be due to hormonal changes and inflammation in the joints. Postpartum joint pain symptoms may initially occur during pregnancy or labor and last for several weeks to months after birth.
This article discusses where postpartum joint pain might occur, possible causes, and how to treat it.
Some people may experience joint pain during pregnancy that worsens and continues into postpartum.
Postpartum pain could be a result of hormonal changes and the physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth.
For example, hip pain is common during pregnancy and can last for weeks or months after pregnancy. In rare cases, it could develop into a lifelong condition. Other joint areas someone can expect pain include the fingers and knees.
Postpartum joint pain in the fingers could have many causes, including the physical demands of labor and fluid retention.
Holding the hand in certain positions for long periods during labor, such as gripping the side of a bed, could cause injuries to the finger or hand joints.
Doctors may suggest home care for mild cases. This can involve resting the fingers and applying an ice pack. Compression bandages can also help.
Pregnancy may cause fluid retention, which can increase the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition occurs when the median nerve in the hand becomes compressed.
When the body holds more water than usual, fluid can build up in the wrist, putting pressure on the nerves in the hands.
Carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy may cause tingling sensations and weakness in the hands, which can last into postpartum. Another symptom is sharp pain in the fingers.
Doctors will usually treat carpal tunnel syndrome by providing supportive gear for the hand and suggesting a period of rest. Some medications might also help, such as anti-inflammatory drugs. In more severe cases, steroidal injections or surgery may be necessary.
The medical term for the most common type of hip pain during pregnancy is pelvic girdle pain (PGP), which affects joints in the pelvis. Other conditions that may cause hip pain during postpartum include piriformis syndrome and hyperthyroidism.
Researchers are unsure of the exact cause of PGP, but it is usually the result of the hips becoming unstable during pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones also affect how people regulate pain, so this could explain why PGP is very painful. PGP may also have a genetic link.
PGP symptoms include:
- pain deep in the pubic area
- pain that worsens with activity
- radiating pain across the lower back
- popping sound when hip moves
To treat PGP a doctor may recommend physical therapy to strengthen the pelvic muscles and reduce pain. Pain medication can also help.
A 2013 study suggests that some people may experience piriformis syndrome after pregnancy. This is where a muscle near the buttocks spasms and causes pain in the area.
The condition can affect the nearby sciatic nerve. Piriformis syndrome presents with symptoms of sciatica, such as lower back, hip, and leg pain.
A doctor may suggest non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to manage the pain. Physical therapy and exercising the leg will also help.
Some people develop hyperthyroidism during pregnancy. Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces excessive levels of hormones.
Graves’ disease could be an underlying cause of hyperthyroidism and presents in 1-4 of every 1,000 pregnancies in the United States. If a person develops Graves’ disease for the first time during their pregnancy, symptoms could get worse during postpartum.
Hyperthyroidism during pregnancy and postpartum can cause thyrotoxic myopathy. This can condition can affect the pelvic girdle, causing pain in the region.
Doctors will suggest antithyroid medications to treat hyperthyroidism or thyrotoxic myopathy. These drugs control thyroid hormone levels and reduce symptoms.
Knee pain during postpartum could be due to the person having carried more weight when they were pregnant. However, joint pain may also be a symptom of hyperthyroidism, so if a person’s knee pain is not getting better after delivery, they should speak to their doctor.
To treat postpartum knee pain a person may want to take over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medications or painkillers. If a person is breastfeeding they should discuss safe pain relief with their doctor.
In rare cases, some people develop rheumatoid arthritis after pregnancy. This happens when the immune system attacks healthy joint tissue.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a lifelong condition. Doctors will use medications to reduce inflammation and manage the symptoms.
A person may be able to alleviate pain with home care. For example, a person could treat lumbar pain in the lower back by applying heat to the area, such as with a hot water bottle.
Another area a person could focus on is their posture and gait so they know how to move without putting pressure on the spine. This type of management may also involve Kegel exercises.
As pregnancy and labor are physically demanding, preventing postpartum joint pain may not always be possible.
However, some general tips for preventing joint pain include:
Many conditions cause postpartum joint pain, with some being more serious than others.
A person should see a doctor for postpartum joint pain that is persistent or gets worse. Severe pain could indicate an underlying health condition that needs further treatment, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or hyperthyroidism.
The physical demands of pregnancy and labor may lead to postpartum joint pain. A person may feel pain in the finger joints, hips, or knees. The pain might occur with other symptoms and disrupt daily living.
In some cases, the pain may be due to arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Gentle exercise and eating a healthful diet can help reduce the risk of postpartum joint pain.