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You’ve probably been warned that as your pregnancy progresses your back will hurt, your feet will swell and your bladder will seem increasingly, well, pea-sized. Bet you never thought you’d add a case of carpal tunnel syndrome to the list. But if you’ve noticed a pins-and-needles sensation or numbness in one or both hands, a weakened grip, or even pain that radiates from your fingertips to your shoulders that intensifies when performing activities involving your wrists, join the crowd. As many as 25 percent of women are afflicted with carpal tunnel syndrome during the last half of pregnancy.
The carpal tunnel is the passageway between the wrist and hand that holds the median nerves and tendons responsible for flexing the fingers. During pregnancy, fluid retention (remember those swollen feet?) causes swelling, which can pinch the nerves in this space. The pinched nerves, in turn, send pain radiating from one end of the arm to the other. The discomfort is usually the worst at night or first thing in the morning, and if yours is disruptive or disabling, your physician may suggest that you wear wrist splints to bed.
You should also cut back on activities that force your wrists into a flexed or bent-back position. “Typing, riding a bike, and holding very tightly onto the handles of exercise machines like treadmills, stair climbers and elliptical trainers are the worst things you can do,” says Linda LaRue, R.N., M.E.d., a Los Angeles-based athletic trainer who designed the workout featured here.
Easing up on or avoiding such activities and icing your wrists may bring some relief, as may reducing your sodium intake to keep your water weight down. LaRue’s stretching and strengthening program also serves as a preventive measure. After all, the last thing you want right now is any ailment that might hinder your picking up your new baby.
Do these three moves every day. (You may want to do them several times daily if you do a lot of computer work.) If possible, ice your wrists for 20 minutes after each session. If you feel any discomfort or pain, stop and consult your physician.
1. Wrist extension stretch
Hold your left hand out in front of you, wrist up, palm facing out. With your right hand, gently press against your left fingers, pushing them back toward your chest. Stop when you feel tension (but not pain) and hold for 15–20 seconds. Repeat twice on each hand.