this grad school thing is a real pain in the hand
June 25, 2009 2:29 PM   Subscribe

YANAD, but I'm having some noticeable pain in my right (dominant) hand in the muscle in between my index & middle finger knuckles on the back of my hand. I'm also writing my dissertation.

The pain seems to be in the interossei muscle. Mousing (especially scrolling) and touch typing aggravate it, but I don't think the pain is ever really sharp, more of a dull tightness/muscle cramp. I'm not really having any other wrist/repetitive motion pain, just the hand muscle. I don't really have any other regular joint/arthritis pain. I have a decent chair height & I'm typing on a laptop.

Mostly I don't want to break my hand forever by ignoring it for the next few weeks. I'm almost done with the dissertation, but the comes the defense slides and probably another paper, so I'm going to be doing a lot of computer work in the next 6-8 weeks. I'm not really writing much in the evening so I am taking breaks then at least, and I could start icing it.

Should I go see the doctor about this? Or should I just go take some ibuprofen and quit worrying?

(Even though I went to the eye doctor, that time my eyeballs went sort of wonky from staring at the computer too much seems to have worked itself out ;)
posted by sararah to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This reminds me of RSI (I see what you did there). My nerd friends in college were advised to exclusively mouse with the other hand for approximately... 8 weeks. It worked great. GL.
posted by gensubuser at 2:39 PM on June 25, 2009

Sounds like it could be tendonitis, which gives me a sort of slow burn pain on the back of my hand. I've had it several times in recent years from too much computer use. A doctor will tell you to rest it, but I know that's not an option. When I've had to work through it, the following has helped:

- wear a neoprene hand support (you can buy them in the pharmacy)
- take ibuprofen
- when you stop work, put ice packs on it.

As soon as you can give it prolonged rest, then do so.
posted by essexjan at 2:44 PM on June 25, 2009

Thanks for the tip on the neoprene hand support, essexjan. Although the thought of neoprene + Iowa summer makes me shudder just a bit ;)
posted by sararah at 3:31 PM on June 25, 2009

You need to start mousing with your other hand for a while. You should also probably alternate between the laptop trackpad and a mouse. You could also scroll with another finger, like your ring finger.

And if the pain doesn't go away within a few days, you should see a doctor about it. This could be the beginning of a long-term injury if you don't take measures to control it. On the other hand, you could just be worn out. A doctor will know.
posted by twblalock at 4:27 PM on June 25, 2009

Get a pullup bar and hang from it (or hell do pullups). Stretch it out. Works for me.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 4:50 PM on June 25, 2009

Be sure to take frequent breaks to stretch and shake out your hands, extending fingers and contracting them may help. Also, be aware how tightly you are gripping that pen or pencil when writing - if you notice it's leaving an indentation, try a "fat" pen with a cushioned grip. When using your keyboard, keep it at or below elbow height, watch your posture and tap keys rather than pounding them.

The Anterior Interosseous nerve is a branch of the median nerve. Since the nerve controls muscle function of the flexor policis longus and index finger flexor digitorum profundus (you know, that one you're constantly using on the mouse and writing with), weakness in these muscles occur. They control the pinching motion that occurs with the tip of the index finger and thumb. Holding and writing with a pen becomes very difficult with entrapment of this nerve.

Avoid aggravating activities, such as pushing, holding, and grabbing motions. Rest and ice therapy can be very helpful to reduce the pain and muscle spasms. Light stretching and self massage can be beneficial. IANAD
posted by wabanada at 6:25 PM on June 25, 2009

I had to laugh. I recognize that pain (most severe when I was writing my dissertation too)! I found that for me a track ball was worse than a conventional mouse. I couldn't cope with switching hands for mouse work. For me it was most excruciating with the editing phase than the typing. Being aware about what works or didn't was helpful, adjusting the height of the desk/chair helped, and a comfortable (but not particularly ergonomic) mouse helped (although now I have a touch pad, and type on a laptop- even for academic work).

What has ended my problems with this issue pretty much for good (despite continuing to write/edit at least as much these days), was literally to teach/train myself to type and edit with my arms, wrist and hand positioned in an aligned and neutral position (elbows not too high, wrist straight, hand/fingers curved as if a half a tennis ball is in each, but still relaxed), and then to type/edit in ways in which have minimal movements, and to maintain the proper position and alignment. With a little diligence these strategies did not take long or much effort to internalize and maintain, and no more hand pain.
posted by kch at 8:27 PM on June 25, 2009

You might try speech recognition/dictation to reduce wear and tear from typing and selecting/editing text.

If you use Windows, Microsoft Speech is actually pretty good and it's free/included. In MS Word, go to Tools --> Speech.

If you don't have Windows, you could try Dragon Naturally Speaking if you're willing to pay.

I realize that's not really the medical type advice you asked about, but maybe it helps.
posted by powpow at 8:33 PM on June 25, 2009

Thanks for all the suggestions. I bought a sexy grandma hand/wrist support at the drug store and wore it most of last night and also iced the hand twice before going to bed. The support glove isn't quite neoprene, but the compression seems to be helping a lot. Hand is feeling a LOT better this morning. I've had this pain before for short times, but it was definitely most severe yesterday.

If it keeps up I will probably go to the doctor, as I am also a knitter and that could be a contributing factor (although I knit last night for a bit and it didn't aggravate it at all). And I'm definitely taking the weekend off, uh, to rest my hand, amirite? :)
posted by sararah at 9:05 AM on June 26, 2009

FWIW I'm a knitter too, and experimented with the contributing factor of knitting, and for me, knitting didn't make this worse at all. It was just chronic bad position/repetitive motion.
posted by kch at 7:18 PM on June 26, 2009

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