RSI – What to do? (Part 3 – RSI Dealing With A Long Term Condition)

The following article is a follow-on from RSI – What to do? (Part 1 – RSI Initial Symptoms) and RSI – What to do? (Part 2 – RSI Dealing With Progressive Symptoms) .

OK, so you are experiencing a long term RSI condition, ie it has gradually worsened for more than 2 years. You are in continual pain at work and find it difficult to do your job. You have perhaps gone through consultations with ergonomists, doctors, physiotherapists and just about anybody who’ll listen, but still you find no relief. You struggle to remember what it felt like not to associate pain with computer use. You may be wearing an arm brace (and probably have a large collection of them by now), and you probably have a sizeable collection of strange ergonomic mice at your computer that don’t seem to help. Your employer keeps expecting the same work output from you and you stress about how you can get through it. You get by by doing what you can, but generally come home each night from work and feel anxious about the situation and the searing pain down your arms. You wonder what you can do, and how you are supposed to live a normal life – you can’t remember what normal life was like before this injury!

So what are the options then? Well I remember a great bit of advice from my father (that’s what fathers are for after all). It was at the stage where I was still living in the US and wanted to return home. The prospect of a new computer intensive job and a new situation was looming, and I wondered how I’d cope because my injury was getting worse. The stress of the situation wasn’t helping either and changing countries of residence can be a very anxious time. I just wasn’t sure whether I could go on working with computers any more. I phoned my father and told him the situation, fully expecting him to tell me to stay with the job. I was, however, surprised when he said rather straightforwardly, “Well, you’ll need your arms and hands for everything else you decide do in life”. In other words, it wasn’t really an option to keep doing something that could ultimately make me any more disabled. I knew then that I had to consider doing something else.

Before coming to any radical decisions, I really strongly recommend trying to adopt all the suggestions in RSI – What to do? (Part 2 – RSI Dealing With Progressive Symptoms) in the majority of cases you will see improvements.

In addition I’d recommend –

  • Eliminating as much computer interaction as possible at work, home and elsewhere
  • Eliminate text messaging entirely
  • Eliminate use of games consoles if you use them
  • Get as physically fit as possible, go swimming
  • Use meditative techniques to relax and ease the pain, maybe as part of a Yoga class
  • De-stress your life wherever possible
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep a night
  • Stick to core work hours – if you are in really bad, continual pain, consider medical leave
  • Talk over options with your employer – there may be something else less computer intensive that they can find for you to do
  • Find a good physiotherapist who can do deep tissue massage
  • Find a RSI support group and share your experience with others. Hear what has worked for others and get free helpful advice
  • Consider a career change – it’s tough to do and can be stressful in itself, but there are still jobs out there that don’t require computer use, or at the very least involve less computer use. I am now a self employed picture framer!

RSI conditions can be tricky to get rid of. I have been away from my computer intensive career for two years now, and I still have bad RSI symptoms. Interaction with a computer for 5-10 minutes can make it start to hurt badly, so these conditions are not easy to shake off. There is no ‘magic bullet’ to fix them.

Look after your arms and hands, remember you will need to use them in any new career you decide to take. Good luck with finding a solution that works for you.

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8 comments

  1. Lisa Goldsmith says:

    i have found this article very helpful!!
    And really could relate.
    Nobody seems to understand how depressing and stressful this is!!

    I work as a kitchen cad designer have paid nearly a £1000 to a chiropractor and have also had physio through the nhs!!

    Finding it really hard to cope i never took my hour lunch and still feel under pressure when i do leave my desk!!

    I had a xray and i also have spondolysis so that has also caused the nerve to trap, im at the end of my tether.

    Im 40 years old and have always been active!!

  2. Yvette says:

    I have suffered from RSI for almost 12 years now. I still struggle despite all the gadgets and ergonomic equipment I use. I have found that career counseling for intelligent, educated people (not vocational rehab) with this disability is completely lacking here in the US. Do you have any suggestions for help with career alternatives?

  3. alanf says:

    Hi Yvette,

    Sorry to hear about your injury. You are in a similar situation to myself. I reached the stage that it was no longer tenable for me to continue in my field of work. You are correct in that you get to the stage that every input device causes some pain. (Have you tried mouseless cick software? touch screens? roller mice?). I managed to prolong my working life with employer allowing me to do my job through a graduate employee for about 18 months, at which time they were fully trained to do my job. Not the most secure thing for me, but it did help me to continue to work for a while.
    Beyond that you really have to ask yourself serious questions about how much the job is worth to you and your personal well being. I knew I’d need my hands/arms to function properly in any other job I’d do, and wasn’t prepared to let them get any worse in order to prolong my employment. Choosing what else to do was very challenging since just about every job out there involves computer use. I ended up choosing to work for myself (maximum flexibility, and I get to dictate work load) and combined an interest I had in photography with a picture framing business.
    The framing business keeps me busy and allows me to do non computer related work. It’s certainly not quite as lucrative as my previous computer related work, but it’s better than sitting in pain over a computer every day. Choosing another line of work and retraining can be one of the hardest decision you will ever make, so take your time and make the choice that it right for you.

    Alan

  4. Jackie says:

    I have suffered with an RSI of the wrist for more than 10 years. I work for the NHS who are completely unsympathetic to the problem. I am running out of options and do not know which way to turn. Do I take early retirement (I am 50), seek alternative employment or take prolonged time off sick to see if a spell of rest improves the problem? I just need someone to advise me and guide me in the right direction. A support group sounds like a great idea!

  5. alanf says:

    Hi Jackie,

    I can sympathise. You are in a situation similar to how I was before I decided to leave my job due to RSI. Your 10 year run with RSI will likely not clear up quickly. Mine is still with me some 4 years on from leaving my job, and can flair up badly withing a short period of time when using a computer. I’d certainly chew over all the options before choosing to leave, including employer related ones like the possibility of changing career with them away from the equipment causing you to have a problem. If this comes to a dead end, then chew over with your manager, managers manager, HR. If that comes to a dead end, talk with an employment lawyer and see if you are being discriminated against based on your disbility – even their advice may be useful. If all else fails and you can’t resolve further explore the leaving options including early retirement, severance payout, personal injury claim etc. and see what one works best for you. ps. document well all interactions with your employer where they are not being sympathetic. (Emails I believe are not good enough in any claims process.)

    Alan

  6. Patrick says:

    I am 21 years old and before about nine months ago I was an avid dirt bike rider and regularly worked out in a gym. Last summer I suffered a wrist injury which preceded to last 4 to 5 months. After that I went back to playing video games and suffered a painful thumb injury. After about four months it is almost gone, however I preceded to return to typing and playing video games using my fingers and after only a few days I am in a great deal of pain and very concerned that I have just given myself a new RSI to my fingers. Also during this time (nine months) I had chronic foot pain, due to an old fracture which I had to receive surgery for and recently re-fractured because of the resumption of activity to quickly. During this time it has been a nightmare to say the least especially for somebody at my age. I received prolotherapy, which was pretty successful in treating my wrist and my thumb. I am very concerned about this new possible RSI to my fingers. My foot Doctor simply told me to rest the hand. I am the type of person that obsesses over my injury constantly and looks things up on my condition. I was doing very well until about a week or so ago when I refractured my foot and sustained this injury. I don’t know if I can handle going through this again. Thankfully summertime is almost here and I will be able to fully rest my hand.
    My question for you is what steps should I take right now in order to make this to go away as quickly as possible. I have seen nothing but negative comments regarding this condition. Should I consider prolotherapy for this as well? Should I get in to see In to see a physical therapist? Should I get in to see an acupuncturist? A physiotherapist? I have completely stopped aggravating the injury aside from occasionally light writing in class. I moist heat and ice massage as much as I can. After reading all about this condition however it makes me feel hopeless. The one thing I’ve read everywhere is that action must be taken as soon as it starts. What does that mean exactly for me? Also this condition started in the period of a few days and my fingers, particularly the knuckle joints hurt a lot. I suspect that the repeated action of mashing a button on my controller caused this. I’m confused because everything I read says that the pain builds up slowly over time but mine started almost overnight. Please please e-mail me back with your opinion on what I should do. FYI I have given up dirt biking and probably playing video games for good. I want nothing more than to be pain free and to exercise freely and safely.

  7. Patrick says:

    I have no pain when I first wake up

  8. alanf says:

    Hi Patrick,

    sorry to hear about your condition(s). First of all, I am not a medical professional so any advice I give you is just based on opinion.
    It sounds like you are having a bad time. I am not familiar with Prolotherapy, and have not encountered it, so I can’t really pass comment on that. With respect to your suspected RSI injury, you should 1. try to find a good Physio (it can be hard to find a good RSI one, but its probably worth spending some time hunting one down. Some Physios do acupuncture too and can perhaps advise you in this regard. I have not had acupuncture treatment specifically for RSI.) 2. Like you suggest, ditch video gaming completely, it’s not worth risking your future health for. They are very addictive (from experience), and its a good idea to break free. They are going to take a large toll on the health of generations to come. 3. When choosing a physical activity, I really recommend doing non-impact activities for strength and conditioning especially if you are prone to injury (like I seem to be, I have had more connective soft tissue, ie ligament, tendon etc injuries than I care to remember, indeed I’m still recovering from a sternum strain from last October!). Other good low impact fitness activities include cycling, kayaking, and working out on elliptical type equipment. Avoid weights until you are pain free. Keeping fit is a good thing to avoid injuries though.
    You mentioned pain whilst typing, but didn’t really elaborate about when and how you are typing. You need to be sure you have good ergonomics whilst typing, its very easy to not have good ergonomic posture which can easily cause an RSI condition to get worse. You should consult an Ergonomist or again an informed Physio may be able to advise.
    You should also try to not fixate on an injury eg. RSI, the stresses involved can make you apprehensive and more prone to tensing already tight and sore tendons etc.
    My advice would be to find an activity that doesn’t involve causing pain to your existing injuries and focus on that activity instead. This will give you time to heal up your injuries.
    You may also want to review you diet and make sure you are getting a good balanced nutritious diet. This will also help your body heal. Your GP may also be able to advise whether taking NSAID painkillers may be beneficial for a protracted period, you should talk this over with your GP first.
    Keep in mind you are only 21, and as such you have the advantage of a faster healing capability than those of us who are older.

    Alan

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