Repetitive Strain Injury
What This Post Is
This post is to act as information for those who are experiencing symptoms of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) in their wrists and may be Googling for help and beginning to feel helpless, because the internet is full of accounts of RSI suffering and treatment failures. Nobody seems to take the time to report any success or happy stories, which I found incredibly depressing during my experiences. I write this in the hopes that others will find it online and find comfort in it.
So, I'm a massive computer nerd. Since I was probably - let's say - 10, I've spent increasing amounts of time on computers during the day. I started learning to program at 14, with the amount I typed each day only going up. I consider programming, using computers, playing PC games, etc, to be a core part of my identity.
With all that in mind: for the last few years I've had a niggling fear in the back of my mind that one day my excessive computer use would affect my health. The occasional ache or sore wrist/hand would usually prompt worrying. As most people do, I worried but took no preventative actions. Eventually, around May 2015, I went on holiday and used my laptop at a particularly unergonomic table for a week and this was the straw that broke the camel's back.
From this point onward I rapidly found it increasingly unpleasant to use a computer, and that my wrists were becoming highly sensitive to bending. Trying to get up and push off with my hands, for example, could result in my wrists giving way reflexively due to pain.
What I Tried
Firstly I tried reducing computer usage slightly, applying hot/cold packs to my forearms on evenings or during work. I got in touch with my job's Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Assessment people who are responsible for helping staff work ergonomically, who suggested I acquire assorted interesting mice and wrist rests. None of this really seemed to have any effect, hot/cold packs feel quite nice, but the a doctor later informed me this was mostly just a distracting sensation from any underlying aches/pains.
Eventually I got my act together and saw a doctor who, although friendly and with good intent, was only able to identify it as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and was really powerless to help further. I believe they may have given some advice to rest from the computer, which I took on-board, but I got the impression that my own research on the matter exceeded theirs (which I don't blame them for, General Practitioners (GPs) are by definition general, I don't expect them to know the ins and outs of such niches).
Armed with assorted quirky mice, keyboards and the intent to minimise computer usage I waited to see if things got better. They didn't. At all.
I took up watching lots of television to keep myself from using the computer at home, giving in to temptation on a few nights of the week. This wasn't helping however, and I was perpetually on a balancing point where I was just about "healthy" enough to use a computer throughout the working week but not at home. All of this was having a significant impact on my mental well-being. The idea that I was going to have to give up all computer usage outside of work, and still not feel free of symptoms, was devastating.
I worked to increasingly reduce my computer usage, to a point where by late November 2015 I was barely using computers outside of work, and my current project at work involved minimal typing. I was utterly fed up, because I felt I had tried everything: avoiding computers, ibuprofen, hot/cold packs, wrist splints at night, vertical mice, ambidextrous "Penguin" mice, tiny keyboards, Microsoft natural keyboards, trackballs and split keyboards.
Finally I get to the point where I feel surely I am justified in reporting my lack of success to a doctor again, so I go back and happen to see a different doctor.
So I see a new doctor, I verbally dump a recount of all events from May 2015 through to the current day affecting my wrists: the symptoms, the attempted "treatment" and the lack of any improvement. Whilst initially taken aback, the doctor eventually just declared that I had tried everything I could reasonably be expected to, if not more so. Physiotherapy was put forward as the next step, which I'd been hoping for and accepted immediately.
So I got to see a physiotherapist. I had to wait until January to see one and, despite having been mostly patient for the prior 8 months, knowing that help was at hand (no pun intended) made the wait unbearable.
When I saw the physiotherapist, I explained the whole situation again, they examined my arms and asked me to bend my wrists and apply force to their hands. They sat back and simply declared that they weren't surprised I had symptoms of RSI, the muscles in my forearms were terribly tight and the flexibility of my wrists was horrendous. They gave me a set of stretches, gave a small amount of massage, and told me to do the stretches everyday, every hour, until I saw them the next week.
Within a few days of doing the stretches, I felt enormously better, and started using a computer at home again a little - I wanted to push my luck to see how effective the exercises were.
I suffered plenty of discomfort, because fundamentally stretching is a bit of an art (in my opinion) and I regularly made mistakes, stretched too much, did them slightly wrong, etc. Ultimately, however, I did what I was meant to and it seemed to be working.
I saw them the next week, I talked through my experiences, they massaged my arms, they told me to come back in two weeks. Same again, I go away, I stretch every day, every hour, I feel great. I'm using a computer whenever I fancy it. I go back two weeks later, tell them how it's going, they bend my wrists and ask me to apply force to their hands. They give me some advice on how to continue my exercises with much less regularity from now on, as I feel I need them, with the stern advice to not "just stop" because I feel better. They don't ask me to make any more appointments.
So, it's too early to say for sure, heck it's only been a few weeks since I started the physiotherapy, but my wrists feel enormously better. I've had three 30 minute physiotherapy sessions over the course of about a month and I am now - for lack of a better phrase - "cured". I essentially feel free of RSI complaints entirely. It's not magically cured forever, in that I have to manage my wrist's health forever with occasional stretches, but I only need to stretch once or twice a week as I feel a need. I can spend time playing PC games, writing code, writing this blog post and know that I can go back to work next week and do a week's work - even using a computer on evenings.
I'll try and either update this post, or post a follow up, in a few months with how things progress.
I don't think physiotherapy is magic or anything, but there is a lot to be said in having a doctor direct you to the correct specialist. Particularly with something as seemingly poorly understood as RSI.
I hope this post helps someone, or at least, makes someone feel slightly more positive about their experiences. I appreciate not everyone will be this lucky, due to many factors I am probably ignorant to, but I am hopeful that it is useful to at least a few.