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"Oh, My Aching Hands!"

Q. I'm pregnant and suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Now that my due date is getting closer, my hands are hurting more. What's happening -- and how can I safely relieve the pain?

A. Unfortunately, you can add CTS to the list of discomforts that are more common during pregnancy. In fact, about 25 percent of expectant moms will develop the syndrome. The same prenatal water retention that's to blame for swollen ankles can put pressure on the median nerve in the wrist and hand. The result is a condition characterized by shooting pain, numbness, and tingling in the fingers. Occasionally, the pain can migrate to the forearm and shoulder. The good news is that if CTS first appears during pregnancy, it should reverse itself 4 to 6 weeks after delivery.

Until then, there are ways to find relief. Orthopedic hand specialist Diana Deane Carr, M.D., of Sebring, FL, recommends wearing a splint on the affected hand(s) to keep the wrist(s) straight, since bending puts more pressure on the nerve; you can find a splint at most drugstores. To reduce pain you can also apply ice to numb the nerve, or do yoga. A recent study suggests that a yoga-based regimen of stretching and strengthening exercises for the upper body, along with relaxation, eases pain. In more severe cases, your doctor can inject the area with steroids and a local anesthetic. This treatment is safe for pregnant women because the medication isn't passed along to the developing baby, but relief is temporary.

If you're still experiencing discomfort months after you deliver, the condition could have more to do with your activities or work, especially if you type a lot. Having diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, or a previous wrist fracture may also predispose you to CTS, says Carr.

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