Forearm discomfort and wrist pain

Date: 3 October 2010
Name: Georgios
Website: Vancouver Website, Graphic and Logo Design

First phase: Going down
My RSI problems started last November by doing hard weight lifting exercises, despite of being untrained. Anyway, I started to have some minor discomfort at the wrist and the heels, too. I went to an orthopedic doctor, and he told me to stop weight lifting. I did, and being a computer engineer I kept on working on my computer, mostly all day. It was 15th of December at that time. The discomfort wouldn't go away, but I was going to have some vacation on the beginning of January for 2 weeks and I was sure that that was going to be the end of it. When I came back, the discomfort wasn't gone, and by the end of January, it was the first time that I couldn't type all day. For the next 3 months, I went to 3 more orthopedic doctors, did some nerve tests, blood and urine tests, and went to 2 chiropractors. They told me not to work all day, but instead about 4 hours. As for my condition, it got worse and worse, to a point that when typing one stroke I would feel some discomfort in the finger bones, and for typing for 1 minute would give me pains on my fingers for 2 weeks. I had some numbness at nights occasionally, some pain in the forearm often, some pain in the finger bones occasionally, discomfort at the wrists all the time and strong pain on my wrists very often. What usually happened is that if not actively hurting a lot, it was with some discomfort only until I did some very simple chore and then I would start to feel pain. At the point I couldn't type even for 1 minute, I also had to think about everything I did, like wearing clothes which required no strong hand movement. Every daily activity was done with my hands in mind.

For the next 4 months I decided to do nothing. I couldn't do much anyway. So, I did no typing, no extra hobby activities, only my house chores. My condition wasn't improving. At this time, it wouldn't feel actively in pain, but there would be this discomfort which would get stronger the more I used the hand (and I almost didn't use it). Any attempts to type would stop with the same feeling of finger exhaustion. Also, my wrist started to crack when I turned it in circles.

Treating the emotional part of my problems was the most difficult. After reading some cases online about people that couldn't work etc, I felt at danger of having all my dreams destroyed. I thought of getting other specializations, to get a job that wouldn't require typing. Financially, I was lucky, because I am a student and students in Greece are financed by their parents. So, I had the opportunity to take time off and visit doctors, because healthcare is practically for free. I also was in despair, because I had an offer from a very known company in the USA to do an internship in the summer, but I couldn't do it if I couldn't type, which would mean I would lose the opportunity to travel and have the best experience. Anyway, I didn't back off from the internship in USA, although it seemed impossible I would be able to type so soon and so hard.

At that time I was using the NaturalPoint SmartNav Head Mouse, for basic computer access. It is a mouse used by the head. Of course the neck would hurt after a couple of days, so then I used it with my chest, shoulders, belly whatever I could think of. Nothing would last for long. I also tried using a conventional mouse by using it on the floor by the foot, which lasted surprisingly long and well, before my knees would hurt. Of course I used automatic clicking software.

Second phase: Getting up
That was when I felt I should really take my fate in my own hands and stop listening to the doctors that had no clue and who were wasting my time. I found that stretching very often and always being very hydrated was helping (in Greece it gets very hot and being without water until say 12am would make my wrists hurt). Then I went to the USA. I started typing with the 2 fingers and using the NaturalPoint mouse with my chest. My wrists would hurt quite a lot, but at least I could make some work. I soon bought the Datahand keyboard and lots of books.

My personal critique: The book of Butler (price: ) doesn't have a very special content, it is just stretches, but I had already found that stretching was good for me. This book contains lots of stretches for many parts of the upper body and it's good to get some good ideas for a daily stretching schedule. The book of Kate Montgomery is a waste of money, paper and time. The book of Clair Davies (price: ): This is awesome, absolutely must have. It talks about trigger points. I found what it said very true. I also found that working and releasing some areas, would then release pain in some other areas. And the pain would move and move until all parts got treated and no muscle would hurt. It is difficult to read it, and to practice it daily, because the massaging it suggests is a bit violent, but it is absolutely worth it. I think it saved me. I performed the massage it suggests each morning and night. The book of Pascarelli (price: ) is I think much more technical than needed for my case, because it mentioned some other possible sources of the discomfort, which might be scientifically correct, but not quite useful. The book of Suparna Damany (price: ) , is not something amazing, but it is a very good book, in that it gives a good overview of the RSI problem, describing my symptoms and situation well, and some sample stretches. It is very good as an introductory book.

I think people that get the first RSI symptoms should read Damany's book and do Butler's stretches and if symptoms don't go away they should then absolutely read Davies book and clear all trigger points (hard but necessary). And yes, sometimes you have to be inventive to massage yourself, but Davies gives excellent tips for self massage.

So, my symptoms while working in the USA were getting better, despite the work. Sure, I would feel discomfort almost all day, sure I had to stop working some afternoons. But it got less and less often. Some ups and downs are expected I think, too.

The second thing that saved me, besides the books was the Datahand keyboard. Check it out. It doesn't take much time to get used to it. In the beginning I was switching between the Datahand and 2-finger typing, but gradually I use this more and more. I think that if you can still type (I can't) and you have discomfort you should try it. The problem is finding a good place to place it, because it's quite heavy and causes knee pain when I put it on my lap. That was a main reason why I had to switch to 2-finger typing. Now at home, I have a desk with a keyboard tray, and I put it on that, so I don't 2-finger type anymore. And I have regained my speed, at least at text typing. Code typing is a bit slower because you have to switch modes to move the pointer and to type, compared to the classic keyboard. But the comfort is worth it.

I also tried some vertical keyboard and some gripless mouse, but the first I didn't use at all, and the latter only for a while because it was causing more discomfort than the normal after some time for me.

My condition now
Now, I am in a cycle of trigger point elimination, because for 2 months I didn't do any self massaging and I got some trigger points again. I do stretch often, but only 2-3 stretches per time. I must do some larger Butler style stretching routine every day, but it's hard to concentrate on that when you can work, unfortunately. Compared to the former times I only feel discomfort in the wrist after working all day on the computer. I feel no solid pain. My wrist still cracks, but much less, eg. twice a day. I still don't type normally, except for a couple of minutes per time. It just doesn't feel so right, although I don't feel any discomfort when I do it. I want to give it more rest. I do type a lot using the Datahand, however. By the way, one advice, if you buy the Datahand, don't buy the professional version, it's a waste of money. It allows you to change the key mappings, but the default mapping is very convenient and I never needed to change it, so it was useless. That is my personal opinion of course. It's a bit tender, and I'm starting to have a problem with the control key, which I use a lot for control+arrow and control+c,v,x, it gets stuck sometimes, but still it's very useful. I do drive my motorcycle 2-3 times a week for half an hour, drive occasionally and getting better. I'm in a better condition than any time after the problems started.

My strategy is to have perfect ergonomics, take often breaks, don't press too hard if you feel discomfort I prefer to stop if I can, stretch as much and as often as possible, eliminate all trigger points, don't dehydrate, don't over use hands in other activities (I mean not too much and not too hard), but doing other activities is I think very useful for strengthening) and of course have some aerobic exercise, that doesn't strain the wrists like walking or running.

My biggest problem at the moment is that after mousing a lot, my hands get cold, but if I think I have a relatively cold room temperature, because when I increase it it gets better.

So, that was my story, I hope you'll find something in that that helps you.

Finally, I don't trust the traditional doctors with these kind of problems at all. I think they are just ignorant, and they waste your precious time with stupid treatment like pain killers, while you should be doing more effective treatment. And most of the time they suggest passive treatment (rest), while an active treatment with trigger point massage and stretches is needed. Of course, you must eliminate other possible causes for your problem and they are useful at that.

I wish you all the best. Keep in mind that when you think there is no way back, as I thought, there might indeed exist a way back. It may be very hard, but I think most of the times it exists.


Other personal stories

This personal story reflects the experiences of the author. Repetitive strain injury is an umbrella term for pain in muscles, tendons and nerves usually caused by repetitive motions. Even if your symptoms are similar, the cause may be a totally different one! Print out this page and discuss all the information with a doctor or physical therapist before trying them out. You do everything at your own risk!
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