My RSI Story

RSI-Relief.com, as well as the RSI-Relief Blog, has been up and running for a little over a month now, and I’ve had numerous queries about my RSI experiences, so I’ve decided to share my own RSI story.

The symptoms began about seven years ago for me, with wrist pain and tingling in my pinkie and ring fingers. At the time, I was deep into a long and intense programming project, and had been working long days and long weeks, trying to write the software for a new product release. At the time I knew nothing of ergonomics, exercises, or taking breaks. I’d work basically non-stop, in whatever position I happened to find myself, and it finally caught up to me.

I scheduled an appointment with the family doctor, but by the time I actually reached his office, a few days later, the symptoms had subsided. At that point, I basically had to describe the pain from memory, and I’m afraid I wasn’t able to be too precise. The doctor diagnosed tendonitis, and prescribed some anti-inflamatory prescription drugs, but advised me that the next time, I should visit him while the pain was still present.

I took the drugs, and the pain remained at bay. It was at about this same time that I started to educate myself a bit, and started to improve my ergonomics. I bought a new mouse (a Logitech Marble Mouse), and started to wear a wrist brace. This allowed me to keep working and get thru the project.

I continued working in basically the same way for the next few years. I still knew that there was a problem, but it was manageable, and except for occasional flare-ups, it didn’t interfere with my work. in fact, even at that time, the relationship between work and pain was pretty obvious: if I worked to long, or too intensely, it would result in pain.

My next major problem occurred after a long period (several months) of very intense programming, followed by a few weeks of intense CAD work. Programming, for me, is primarily keyboard-driven – the mouse is not used all that often. CAD work is just the opposite – the mouse if used almost exclusively, requiring lots of scrolling, lots of clicking, and very precise movements. I was (again) working on a very important project, and when the inevitable pain from the CAD work began to grow, I decided to work through it. It didn’t hurt that bad, and this work had to get done, and I was the only one that could do it.

Big mistake.

I got the work done, and that part of my project was a success, but I paid the price. My right arm hurt for about three weeks solid – elbow, wrist, and especially for the forearm. The company was going thru some insurance issues at this time, so I didn’t go to the doctor. I self-medicated with ibuprofen and rest. Luckily, this period corresponded with the Christmas holiday, so work requirements eased off. But the severity of this episode scared me. I was seriously thinking “What if the pain doesn’t go away? What if I’ve seriously injured myself? What if I can’t work again?” We’re talking disability here. Yeah, scary stuff.

But the pain did eventually go away. My workload was reasonable. Low-level pain was still there at the end of workdays, but it was not a big deal. Crisis averted, I could relax again.

I had purchased several RSI-related books during this period, and worked my way thru them. The books, along with the pain, had convinced me that I had to make some changes. Here are a few of the changes I came up with:

  • I got an ergonomic keyboard. I tried a number of them, and finally settled on the SK-6000 from PC Concepts. This is a split keyboard with an integrated touchpad. I used the touchpad for awhile, but eventually abandoned it. But I still use the keyboard.
  • I got an better mouse. In addition to the Marble Mouse mentioned earlier, and the touchpad integrated into my keyboard, I tried a number of other pointing devices. I’ll write about this in greater detail at some point, but I ended up using the Microsoft “Wireless Optical Mouse Blue”. This mouse is probably the most “regular” mouse I tried, less agressively egronomic that most. But it has a simple shape that can be used with either the left or right hands, and it’s wireless, which allows greater flexibility in placement. It works for me.
  • I started using program called “WorkPace”, which tracks how long, and how intensely you’re using the keyboard and mouse, and prompts you to take breaks every so often, based on effort expended. The program provide both micro-pauses (a 30-second-or-so break approximately every 15 minutes) and exercise breaks (longer breaks every hour or so, accompanied by suggested exercises). The exercises include animations that show how they’re performed, and include all sorts of stretches, as well as simple suggestions such as “drink plenty of water”, and “focus your eyes on something other than your work”.
  • I improve my workstation setup. Previously, I was using an old wooden desk with a right-angle side-table intended for a typewriter. The side-table put the keyboard and mouse at the correct height, but it was so small that I had to put my monitor on the main desk, and the mouse to the right of the keyboard. Thus, if I was facing the keyboard, I had to turn my head to the left to see the screen, and stretch my arm to the right to grasp the mouse. This led to neck and shoulder problems, as well as arm/hand problems. Ultimately, I ended up getting a new desk, a new monitor (an LCD to replace the old bulky CRT), and a keyboard/mouse tray. This put the keyboard and monitor in-line, and decreased the distance to the mouse.
  • I got a better chair. Previously, I was using an old secretary’s chair, which wasn’t all bad. But I changed to a better chair with armrests and lumbar support. It still wasn’t a great chair, since it had limited adjustability, but it was OK.

Another two years passed, and my RSI was still present, with occasional minor flare-ups, but it was pretty much under control. I was maintaining.

Then, a few months ago, my work situation changed. Now, I’m working from home. Doing the same sort of work, but with greater flexibility. This is a blade that cuts both ways. I can work whenever I want, take off whenever I want. I can go for a run or a bike ride in the middle of the day. I can take a nap in the afternoon. There’s no commute, and I’m not stuck with fast-food lunches. The downside is that it’s very easy to work too much, especially on rainy days. I’ll work all day and on into the evening. WorkPace continues to be a help here, reminding me to take breaks, and even keeping track of the length of the workday, and letting me know if I’ve done too much.

I’m covered by my wife’s health insurance now, and about two months ago I decided to finally get my RSI checked medically. My condition hadn’t particularly goten worse, and I wasn’t in any sort of crisis at the moment, but I decided that now was a good time to deal with this problem for real. The only problems I was experiencing at that time were very slight tingling in the pinkie & ring fingers, a bit of thumb pain, and a bit of elbow pain.

My doctor again diagnosed tendonitis, but this time sent me to a physical therapist. The therapist and I discussed how the arm, hand, wrist, tendons, bones, muscles and nerves work together. He asked me about my workstation setup and my work routine, and I told him about what I’d been doing to manage the problem for the last few years. He agreed that I seemed to be doing all the right things.

The two things that he brought to the table, over and above what I already knew and was doing for myself, were testing and specific exercises:

  • Testing – The therapist showed my how the responses, strength, and range-of-motion differed between my right (pain) and left (no pain) arms. For instance, I’m right-handed, so my right hand should be stronger than my left. But it wasn’t. My left hand was about 10% stronger than my right.
  • Exercises – The therapist gave me a series of exercises to do to increase the strength of my right wrist and hand. These consisted of wrist curls with light hand weights, exercises utilizing rubber bands, and exercises to gently stretch the tendons in my wrist and arm.

I did the prescribed exercises, and ended up going back to the therapist twice more over the course of about four weeks. On the third session, we did the same tests we’d done during my initial examination. My right hand was now slightly stronger than my left, and I had a greater range of motion than before. My therapist advised me to keep doing the exercises, slowly increasing the amount of weights I was using, and the number of repetitions. Unless I was having a problem, I didn’t need to come back.

So that’s the plan now, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m currently very close to pain-free, though still have a small amount of pain if I overdo it.

My main challenges are:

  • Do the exercises properly – I have a tendency to rush through the exercises, doing jerky movements rather than smooth, slow movements. I also sometimes skip the less-interesting exercises, or do fewer reps than I should.
  • Don’t override the WorkPace exercise break – When you’re in the middle of something, and not in pain, it’s tempting to skip the breaks. I know I’m only risking later pain, but sometimes I do skip the breaks.
  • Don’t work too long – Again, if I’m feeling good and making progress in whatever I’m working on, it’s tempting to just keep going and going.
  • Watch the posture – If I’m not paying attention, I tend to roll my shoulders forward and slump. Maintaining good posture is important for proper technique.

I’ll keep on keeping on, and do the best that I can to do what I know needs to be done. The web site is part of that process for me. Researching RSI on the web, and keeping track of new research and new products, helps keep me focussed and observant of my own actions. An hopefully, RSI-Relief.com can help others deal with their own issues, providing information, resources, and inspiration.

Randy Rasa

Randy is an engineer/programmer/web designer who has suffered from repetitive strain injury off and on for over a decade.

11 Comments:

  1. Just wanted to tell you that I read your article thoroughly and I believe it has helped me no end! My ‘injury’ is very recent and happened quite suddenly. It is because I spent over 3 days almost constantly on the keyboard and mouse trying desperately to finish a project. At first I just had niggly pain in my right arm, I just passed it off as nothing that a rest wouldn’t cure. This continued for about 3 days forcing me to halt the project. on the 4th day the pain in my right shoulder, spreading across my neck with secondary pain in my chest and back was so unbearable that I had to call 911. At this time I didn’t associate the pain with my workload [silly me]. The hospital ran every conceivable test believing that I was suffering either a heart attack or heart problems. Thankfully all tests were negative. Sadly though I was released from hospital with no explanation and no pain medication. After thinking that it could be arthritis, I am a 50 yr old woman, I bought Tylenol Arthritis pain medication, this didn’t help one iota. Then I had a brain flash LOL. I thought back to my heavy workload and suddenly associated it with RSI. I immediately went and got some Ibuprofen, this is helping, mostly because it reduces the pain and helps me relax. I decided to do some research and came across your ‘story’. I want to thank you because all the things you have said are pointing me in the right directions for ‘next steps’ for me. I have only been out of hospital for 2 days and I have an appointment with my physician on Thursday, although this may be beneficial, after reading what you had to say I think I will ‘re-think’ my appointment. I am certainly trying Stretching and light exercise along with breathing. Isn’t it funny how we tend to hold our breath or breath too shallow when we are in pain in the hope that it will reduce the pain? I have learned now that breathing deeply plays a significant part in reducing the pain and the numbness of skin and thumb that I have. Anyway I have probably written too much when all I wanted was to Thank You.
    With Kindest Regards
    Linda

  2. Hello,

    For al Dutch Readers:

    RSI Forum – Very good Dutch forum about Repetitive Strain Injuries. Here you can find over 1500 topics dedicated to RSI, ctd, cts and carpal tunnel.

    Maybe this can help somebody.

    Kind Regards, D.J. de Groot

  3. Pingback: RSI-Relief » Healing The Hands Video

  4. I’m 16 and live in the UK. My situation is pretty much like yours was, having postponed it for several months I’ve got an appointment to see my doctor a couple of days away.

    I too am working towards a major software product release and have large quantities of other development jobs to do; I run the business myself and have no-one else working at it… hence over working is easy. I also have what are arguably the most important exams of my academic career approaching and the pain even when writing can get unbearable extrememly easily.

    I have dismissed most solutions as to expensive particularly as the money I currently has needs to be re-invested in hiring conference facilities more this product release. However am considering it to be a neccesary expenditure and have been investigating:

    Nautral Point’s – TrackIR
    Maltron Keybaords
    CodeByVoice.com
    DragonSoft’s Naturally Speaking Pro

    I’m certainly looking forward to Vista’s voice integration! This has been somewhat an inspiration! Thanks, Matt.

  5. Check out John Sarno’s theories on chronic pain such as RSI, it worked for me! I had RSI for two years and after reading his book I was cured! I do understand that what he says may be seen as controversial; open-mindedness is the key. You’ve nothing to lose in at least reading about the theory on the web, although obviously reading his book will be the most accurate and informative representation of the TMS theory.

  6. I would be interested in seeing the exercises you are doing. How about taking a series of photo showing what you do and post them?
    I too got hit very hard with RSI injuries at the age of 45. What I see is a pattern among women in the peri-menopausal stage and the menopause stage. My belief is the hormone loss, plus that we lose body mass faster as we age really puts women at risk.
    I was able to heal pretty well, but it was hard work doing weight bearing exercises for 2 years (which I should still be doing but have slacked off with. I was a cripple before that with my forearms burning for 8 months continually, searing pain in the inner forearms, numbness in my left hand, tingling in my right, pain in the scapula. It has been a long journey back to health and I do not work for long periods at my prescribed job (graphic design) anymore. I think it is important to know that the effects of RSI can be a lifetime disability if not taken seriously. Every change you can make so to alleviate stress on the body improves your situation. I thought I could beat this entirely and regain full health, I was determined and worked hard at it, and am fine most of the time, but if I went back to full-time work, it would destroy what I achieved. I am no longer so quick to say that this injury can be fully healed.
    I’d suggest to all that use a mouse to get a software program to click for you. That is a HUGE help. No one with hand injury should ever have to click a mouse again. In fact, I feel everyone should use this software. http://www.aerobicmouse.com/ has mouse clicking software for mac and PC users. Best of luck to everyone.

  7. some told me to take 2-3 moltron 200 mg along with
    1 500 mg tyleno for pain. couple times daily

    has anyone heard of rhis and does it work for pain.
    my wife has severe knee pain and i would her to try
    tks

  8. A great story, one that, like everyone else that has commented, can relate to. Ed’s comment about John Sarno’s theories really hit a cord with me to, I had my RSI for about 2 years and had tried pretty much everything, after reading one of his books its 99% gone. I finally feel like I can start living my life again so I decided to write about my own experiences.

    Matt: Make sure you go the doctors, but to be honest with you being in the UK also, I wouldnt expect to much from them as I found them pretty poor, but hopefully you will have better doctors then I have in my GP. Best of luck.

  9. Pingback: Healing The Hands Video - RSI-Relief

  10. A Korean acupuncture way to heal from RSI:
    —————————————–

    I am a person who had debilitating form of RSI for eight years. I had hard time even to type for five minutes even after taking one year rest from my software job. However, I am recovering now by using sujok acupuncture. When most of the treatment therapies failed to have any considerable effect on me I decided to try sujok acupuncture from an MBBS doctor, Ashok Reddy in Bangalore. I was pleased with the response I got and because Dr. Reddy was relocating to USA, I decided to learn this therapy myself and treat myself and help people in distress. On Dr. Reddy’s advice I decided to get trained in sujok acupuncture from Dr. Laxminarayan Prabhu, MBBS MD MRCP who has an acupuncture clinic in Vijay Nagar, Bangalore. Dr. Prabhu gave enough time to answer my questions and made me a sujok practicener over one months time. I visited Dr. Prabhu mostly during the week ends to study this simple but powerful acupuncture technique. I am writing this mail to let the people know if you have not found any benefit from the type of therapies you are having, then use Sujok acupuncture. This could change your life altogether. Sujok is a korean acupuncture which concentrates only on the fingers and palm of hand to treat practically any type of disease. In
    Russia clinical trials have been done using this therapy for many serious diseases. Browse this link to know the efficacy of this therapy.
    http://www.sujok.com.au/research

    After learning this therapy I have started treating people free of cost and helped many to get rid of their year old pains.
    I have finally found satisfaction in my life by using this therapy than doing software development job. I am currently working as an Engg. Manager at Vividlogic and can be reached at mns123@gmail.com.
    Those who have hard time to type can reach me on my mobile 9880716779.
    My sole goal is to popularise this therapy and help people suffering from RSI type ailments to start working again.

  11. Hello. I also wanted to share my experience and what I am trying to do about it. I am a graphic designer and over the past 18 months I have developed Work Related Upper Limb Disorder, most commonly known as RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury), in my hands, arms, shoulders and chest as well.

    Instead of dwelling on the doom & gloom of the problem itself (and sitting watching TV) I am going to spend the next two months of my sick leave focusing on finding solutions and proving that loosing the ability to use the computer (and your hands in general) really doesn’t make you less of a creative.

    And through doing this I will try to solve an increasing industry problem at the same time.

    I want to talk to industry bods and inclusive design specialists to find out why the creative industry has become so sedentary and computer-dependent.

    And with the helping hand (pun definitely intended) of some friends, I will see if I can’t turn this ‘Repetitive Strain Industry’ back to a ‘Repetitive Brain Industry.’ Or at least start a debate.

    How often do designers go and observe London? Really see it? We live in the most inspiring city and still, even though we are creators, our first port of call is Google.

    I will be doing this through the format of a video diary. Please get in touch if you wish to be part of this quest.

    Welcome to the outside world

    Over and out.

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