Join Date: Aug 2016
Really bad repetitive stress injuries in both hands from using the computer too much?
So I have had really bad repetitive stress problems in both of my hands for about three years. The problem was originally caused by using the computer too much, although it has since expanded to be exacerbated by a much larger range of fine motor hand activities. I have seen a lot of doctors and physical therapists, none of which has been particularly helpful. I have made A LOT of adaptations in my daily life to try to avoid using my hands for the things that bother them, but on average, they have really only gotten worse. Most of the doctors havenít even diagnosed me exactly (it literally said on a few of my appointment summaries: ďreason for visit: hand pain, visit diagnosis: hand painĒ), and when they do you have often disagreed with each other (tendinitis, arthritis, etc.). So I thought I would post online and see if anyone else could be more helpful.
I first got the problem writing music on the computer the summer before my freshman year of college. Although I was only doing it for a few hours a day, music writing is a very mouse intensive activity, and I started to get pain in the top of the palm of my right hand, directly below my pointer and middle fingers. I had this problem on and off for about a year: taking advil and using it less would make it go away, then I would use it more and it would resurface. That summer, I got an internship that ended up involving programming on a laptop for about 25 hours a week (although fortunately by this point I had found an alternative pen tablet mouse). In addition, I was texting a lot on the keyboard phone, playing console video games and piano, and even programming some of my computer at home (although there had a more ergonomic setupówith an external monitor, external keyboard, and keyboard tray). Long story short, I really messed up my right hand, which was already injured from before, and I also managed to injured my left hand as well (one week I thought it would be a good idea to type exclusively with my left hand, because it had not yet been injured). Also at this point, the pain migrated to the back of my hands, in between my knuckles and my wrists.
Eventually I quit my internship early and rested my hands for about six weeks before returning to school. In that time, my left hand got a lotó but not completelyó better, and although I imagine my right hand got a little better, it didnít feel different (it still hurt pretty much all the time, even though I was using it for virtually nothing). Also in that time, I purchased a foot mouse and speech recognition software, and began to use the computer entirely without my hands. I then went back to school and had to switch to writing left-handed. In addition, I figured out how to text from my computer, quit piano, and learned to play video games with my feet. I continued this for about a year, really letting my right hand rest, but by the end of the year it was only marginally better (it no longer hurt all the time when I wasnít doing anything with it, but when I tried to return to typing a little, the same problem flared back up after about a week).
Since then, I have continued to live my life trying to avoid as much repetitive hand usage as possible, but have ran into a different problem. Although speech recognition has consistently worked for me to replace typing since I started it two years ago, all the hands-free mice and I have tried have eventually given me a different repetitive stress problems when I tried to use them too much. The foot mouse gave me really bad knee problems so I got a head mouse. The head mouse started to give me neck problems, so I got an eye mouse in addition. The eye mouse gave me eye problems faster than any of the other cheaper alternative mice before it (after a few weeks of using it, I had so much trouble keeping my eyes open that it was really awkward to have conversations with people because I couldnít maintain eye contact/keep my eyes of the whole time, and for similar reasons, I thought it was too dangerous to drive). Currently I am using an adaptation of my head mouse that allows me to control the mouse by rotating my torso up down left and right. This hasnít given me degenerative back problems yet, but only because I donít have to use the computer a ton during the school year, and I deliberately avoided getting an internship this summer. However, I am going to graduate at the end of this year, and do not think that I could currently use the computer for 40, or maybe even 20 hours a week in my current state. So needless to say this is a major problem in my life.
Along the way, I have seen many doctors and physical therapists. The doctors have all started by squeezing and poking my hands, and asking me to move them into weird positions, to see if they could provoke pain, but I never feel anything abnormal from this stimulus, to their endless confusion. They have also run a lot of blood tests to see if I have some kind of weird underlying chemical condition, but so far, they have found nothing unusual. I have been x-rayed for carpal tunnel, but they said I donít have that. Their latest theory is that I might have arthritis, but I have been on arthritis medication for the past 2 months and I donít think itís doing anything (although itís hard to be sure, because I have been resting my hands all summer, so they donít currently hurt much). For the most part, the doctors have just told me to keep doing what Iím doingókeep using my hands as little as possible, and wait for them to get better. The problem with this is that my hands seem to heal at a glacial rate when I donít use them, if at all, and the way Iím using the computer is not going to be sustainable when I tried to get an actual full-time job (by the way, I am a mechanical engineering major interested in mechanical design, programming, and robotics).
The physical therapists have all given me hand exercises and hand stretches that havenít seemed to do anything. In fact, I would guess that the hand exercises are bad for my problem, because they are, after all, repetitive fine motor hand activities. The physical therapists have also told me to ice my hands, but Iím not sure if this helps the actual problem, or just the symptom. Icing my hands when they hurt basically makes me feel like my problem is completely cured for about a minute or two, and then as soon as I resume using them, they began to hurt again. As further remnants from physical therapy, I am currently massaging my hands and forearms each day using an armaid and using a heating pad on my arms for about 20 minutes a night. Although Iím also not sure if they help, I am more optimistic about them than the exercises.
I have also tried modifying my diet, after reading online that eating too much junk food can cause a lot of inflammation in your body. I have a major sweet tooth, but have since majorly reduced the amount of processed sugar that eat, and have started eating more vegetables, in addition to having some turmeric and fish oil pills every day. This diet change has had no apparent effect on my problem, although funnily enough, it has seemed to drastically reduce the amount and intensity of my colds during the winter (I used to get really sick all the time, and now I think it was from eating too much sugar).
I would describe my pain as an aching sensation that occurs in randomly shifting areas inside my hands (as I mentioned before, mostly between the knuckles and the wrist, and sometimes a little bit in the wrist). Also, when my hands get irritated, I get significantly increased blood flow to my handsóthe veins on the back of my hands pop out and my hands feeling like they are being inundated with fluid. All the doctors and physical therapists have dismissed this as insignificant/unrelated, but throughout the course of my injury I have observed it to be majorly correlated with the pain (the aching and sometimes even occurs directly below the location of a bulging part of a vein), and I use it as a warning sign to avoid re-irritating my hands, because it often comes on before the pain. In addition, the only three things I have found that made my hands feel betteróice in the very short term, and painkillers and rest in the long-termó drastically reduce these symptoms as well as pain.
Generally, using my hands excessively for repetitive fine motor movements causes pain, and also because the underlying problem to get worse. As the underlying problem gets worse, more activities begin to bother my hands, and activities that already bothered them begin to bother them faster. Rest seems to make my hands better, but at a seemingly glacial rate, compared to the exponential rate of pain/apparent damage caused by use. This is the central pattern of my injury, as well as the central problem. The only time when rest really seemed to significantly help was the six weeks that I rested after really screwing up my hands and first injuring my left hand in my first internship. And this only seemed to improve my left hand up to a point, beyond which it never improved.
One interesting thing is that while I am not sure if ice helps the actual problem in addition to just the symptom, I am pretty sure that painkillers do help the actual problem. This is based on getting through a few quarters at school by taking crap tons of advil (about 12 per day) when even writing left-handed began to be a problem. This amount of painkiller allowed me to get through to the end of the quarter, but more interestingly, when I stopped taking it at the end of the quarter, my hands were no worse than before taking it, which Iím certain would not have been true if I had just pushed through the pain for a month or so.
It seems fairly likely to me that I have at least some kind of underlying problem, because I have incurred these injuries with much less computer/general hand usage than all of my friends and peers. For example, many of my friends have played league of legends at one time or another, which basically means that they click the mouse like 1000 times a minute for hours every night (if youíve never seen anyone play lol, itís pretty insane how much they click). In addition, I have incurred major problems from using the computer before even getting a full-time job using one (remember that the job that I really messed them up that was only 25 hours a week). Unfortunately I have no idea what this underlying problem might be (diet was my best guess, and that seems to not have been it).
Other potentially relevant medical information about me is that I have scoliosis (it wasnít bad enough that I ever had to have surgery, but I did wear a back brace for 3 years, and still have back pain pretty much every day from sitting too long), and I have mild insomnia (I have always had a lot of trouble getting to sleep, and although I donít have much trouble getting back to sleep in the middle of the night, I wake up a lot, sometimes three or four times a night, usually to go to the bathroom). In addition, my dad, who is VERY physically similar to me, has a similar repetitive stress problems in one of his wrists, although it is about 1000 times better than mine.
So any ideas as to what might be wrong with me and/or what might help? I would really appreciate any help/advice anyone has to offer.