Road to recovery from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Hand Pain, RSI

Welcome to No Carpal Tunnel Blog

Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals and are not qualified to provide medical information.

With computers all over the place, RSI problems will simply grow over time. Walk into an office or coffee shop, look at how people are working. We have felt the pain and are here to share our roadmap to recovery from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Hand Pain, Wrist pain, and RSI.  Having suffered from RSI on more than one occasion and having to search far and wide for help, we have decided to compile a bunch of useful tips. The first step in healing is admitting that you have a major problem.

Do you know that spending four hours a day in front of a computer is associate with doubling serious heart problems even if you exercise regularly. Those who sit most of the day have a risk of a heart attack that is about the same as smoking. Sitting too much can lead to serious damage to the body.

  • Do your hands hurt after using the computer?
  • Do you find yourself dropping more items?
  • Are you constantly re-tying your shoelaces?
  • Does it hurt to floss your teeth?
  • Are your hands or wrist hurting when you wake up, after driving, after playing videogames or using your smartphone?
  • Is your posture poor? Do you have forward head syndrome?

This slowly debilitating condition is a product of years of physical abuse on your body. The body wasn’t built to type on a computer all day long. It will take months or years to recover from the damage. The tendons and other muscles were not built to taking the pounding of keyboards, swiping, or mouse clicks all day. Kids are starting to use computers at progressively younger ages, making carpal tunnel a growing problem throughout the population. Adjusting your workstation, popping vitamins, or buying an ergonomic keyboard will not solve all your problems. There is no silver bullet or quick fix.

Road Map to Getting Better

  • Get diagnosed by a doctor
  • Work with a hand therapist and/or physical therapist
  • Changing the amount of usage of your hands
  • Stretching and performing strengthening exercises prescribed by your therapist
  • Improving ergonomics
  • Improving posture when seated in front of the computer, car, etc.
  • Pilates, Tai Chi, Yoga all help RSI by move your stuck muscles. Anything to counter that static sitting at the desk. Start slow and ease up if you feel pain. Find a patient instructor that knows anatomy. You may need to do one-on-one classes for a while.
  • We are based in the San Francisco Bay Area, so many resources are listed here

Diagnosis

The first step in recovery is finding a competent doctor and getting a proper diagnosis.  Many hand doctors also perform or mainly perform cosmetic surgery. We have had better luck utilizing doctors that specialize in occupational medicine, neurology, and physiology. Ask your friends, colleagues, and family for suggestions.  We are not medical professionals, and are not qualified to provide medical information. Look for a diagnosis from your doctor and a prescription for hand therapy or physical therapy.  Surgery is a last resort and often only gives temporary relief.

Many doctors perform surgery, luckily most sufferers will not need this drastic step.  The correct diagnosis will help your therapist to teach you good work habits and heal you. I was once diagnosed with tendonitis in my hands, a broad catch-all term.

My problem was achy fingers after short bouts of computer use. It took about 18 months to understand that my hand problems were due to poor posture causing thoracic outlet syndrome. I had seen doctors from prestigious locations, from Stanford to UCSF. The nerve was being impinged up by the shoulder, even though pain was in my fingers.  To get this diagnosis I had to work hard to stay informed, read a lot about my condition, and work my way through several doctors and physical therapists.

For Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, see this list. Dr. Newkirk in San Rafael worked well for me. Dr. Lee at Stanford is another expert. Peter Edgelow in Hayward, CA of Physiology Associates is one of leaders for treating this problem with his ENVEST program. Look for a physical therapist that knows about the Edgelow protocol. Learning how to open up the chest and do diaphragmatic breathing is extremely important. Getting the blood to flow through exercise that does not exacerbate your condition is important.

Anatomy

Those with short, wide hands and square shaped wrists are more like to get carpal tunnel syndrome. Women are 3 times more likely to get it. The size of the carpal tunnel through which the median nerve travels is simply smaller for these folks.

Hand Therapy

Hand Therapists helped me the most with my recovery and education. They give way to Physical Therapists when the problem is not in the hand. My problem was impingement of the median nerve in the pectoralis region from thoracic outlet syndrome, that caused tingling in my fingers. I found that the people at CPMC in San Francisco and San Mateo do a great job.

Support groups are also very helpful. From them, you will learn techniques including Hot and Cold Transition Baths, Paraffin Wax Therapy, Icing, Wrist braces, Wearing gloves, Weight Training and Ergonomics. These are far more useful than popping ibuprofen  all the time. Keeping a Log Book with your daily entries on pain and what happened during the day, is a helpful step to take. Hand Massage and come into play to help further your healing.

Do not hesitate seeing different therapists.  We had to try several before finding one that really helped us. Each contributed different pointers.

Books

Education through reading Carpal Tunnel Syndrome books or Books on RSI is very important. An educated patient will recover faster.

Lifestyle Modification

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Hand Pain recovery will require changes in how you work, exercise,  drive, bike, or even watches and handbags. Any use of your hands will need to be examined and optimized to your new normal.

Work Changes

Computer Ergonomics are important to prevent further damage and to change work habits. Keyboards, input devices, chairs, desks, and other elements require attention.

Smartphones, iPads, and tablet computers contribute to your carpal tunnel or hand pain. Touchscreens with their swiping gestures, can cause undue hardship. Ergonomics and usage reduction are a must when using these evermore present devices. Find stands to hold these portable gadgets in an upright ergonomic manner. Look for one that raises it off the surface and angles it. This Satechi R1 stand works well for my iPad.

We hope you find our experiences helpful in your recovery from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, RSI, or hand pain.  Please comment with your own experiences so others can benefit.

RSI Support Groups

There are many RSI support groups around the nation. I have attended the San Francisco RSI Support group and found it helpful. They have monthly sessions with knowledgeable speakers.

It is always great to learn new things, share tips with others, and realize that you are not alone in your recovery.

Vitamins and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Cocktail
Creative Commons License photo credit: Okko Pyykkö

I have read many sites and books that suggest that taking vitamin supplements may help RSIs such has carpal tunnel syndrome.  I took a B complex as I was recovering and cannot say that did much but the placebo effect works well. As long as your doctor says it is ok, why not ensure you are getting enough vitamins.  A multivitamin and calcium supplements helped my deficiencies in those areas.

NIH does mention that “some studies show that vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) supplements may ease the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome”, while others said it was not helpful.

Vacation and RSI or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

 

We have found that vacations (or weekends) are the best time to heal from RSI or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Some tips for maximizing your healing time:

  • Do not use the computer at ALL. This includes playing with your smartphone or tablet computer
  • Try to minimize carrying heavy items
  • Use rolling luggage or backpacks instead of handbags or hand-carried duffel bags
  • Have someone else carry your items. Porters, your spouse, etc.
  • Keep doing your exercises and stretches on the road
  • Bring your night time splints on the trip (if you need them)
  • Try not to drive; have someone else drive or take public transportation
  • Avoid any activities or outings that require extensive hand use (biking, volleyball, tennis, etc.)
  • Just being gone for 2 weeks doesn’t cause years of abuse to heal

Author: No Carpal Tunnel Blog

Healing from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Repetitive Strain Injuries - RSI or wrist pain.

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