A funny thing happened to Dr. Stephen Sheppard of San Diego.

One day he noticed a strange pain in his left hand and wrist. An inflamed tendon? He tried ultrasound (for deep heat) and massage, but the pain grew worse.

A neurologist -- as he recently told Medical Economics -- diagnosed peripheral neuritis (an inflamed nerve) "and asked how much booze I was drinking. I told him not much."

The pain became numbness. It got hard to lift even a coffee mug. Driving was a problem. Typing was impossible. "I began to think I had carpal tunnel syndrome" -- a frequent problem of those who stress their hands and wrists -- and feared forced retirement.

"Sure enough," an orthopedist diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome. "He seemed eager to operate, but I was hesitant."

The next morning, removing his watch before showering, Sheppard noticed the metal band had left an impression on his wrist. Though it was expandable, "I had put on just enough weight to cause the tightness" -- and pressure.

He bought a more comfortable band. "Within two weeks the pain and numbness disappeared. I called the orthopedist and told him I wouldn't be needing surgery.

" 'Probably all in your head, anyway,' " the specialist said.