Is it RSI?
April 5, 2007 6:28 PM   Subscribe

Is it RSI? I have weird pains in my wrist, like a straight line of ache that goes and goes away for a few seconds. It doesn't happen constantly but often enough for me to be a bit concerned.

I have some risk factors - using a computer a lot (I'm a college student and CS major, after all) and playing guitar a lot (just got back from the worst show of my career!)

I suspect it's not carpal tunnel because I don't have loss of feeling or strength (maybe a tiny bit of strength, but not enough to make a big difference), and it doesn't change with sleeping, at all. Any ideas? I'm also a male 20 year old, if that makes a difference. I would guess some people here have similar lifestyles and such.

And it's not a burning pain at all, and not in the wrist area as much as the tendons on the forearm.
posted by tmcw to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had a similar sensation after spending a long time painting a kitchen wall with a heavy paintbrush. The doctor ended up prescribing a wrist brace. The insurance people took so long to ship it to me that I bought a $15 brace at target. I slept with it on, and healed up. It sounds like you just injured yourself from overuse. I highly recommend a brace, since you can prevent reinjuring yourself and let it heal.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:46 PM on April 5, 2007

Carpal tunnel syndrome isn't the only form of repetitive stress injury -- I've had overuse/strain problems from heavy computer time and poor workstation ergonomics that were much more focused in the forearms than the wrists. My doctor and physical therapist strongly recommended taking frequent, short breaks, stretching/exercises, ice packs, and massage, and that in conjunction with reconfiguring some of the worst bits of my workspace helped keep it under control.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 6:55 PM on April 5, 2007

Braces are frequently contraindicated for people with upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders. So I don't recommend doing that without checking with a health professional first.

Do install Workrave.
posted by grouse at 7:15 PM on April 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, sounds like RSI. I have the same thing only it's a bit worse. (Am a guitar player too, btw. Long practices seem to aggravate it.) If I use my laptop for more than 15 minutes I am in pain for the next few hours. At work it's a little better...I can get in a few hours before the pain kicks in. Mostly I give myself breaks, I change my mouse position frequently (checking my posture etc. when needed), take supplements and muscle builders (my husband manages a vitamin world so that's handy) and take Advil. I also have to sleep with my arm resting on a pillow anytime I sleep on my side, or else sleep is impossible.

I've heard braces work for a lot of folks. Personally, I've tried the brace thing without much result.

Good luck.
posted by othersomethings at 7:17 PM on April 5, 2007

Sounds like an RSI to me. I went with basically your symptoms to the doctor (at my university) and they gave be an informational booklet and a wrist brace, told me to take lots of Ibuprofen, and ice the affected area. They also said that if I experienced any numbness, I should come back straightaway.

But that was the advice they gave *me*. I'd advise not to screw around with it, especially as a CS major (I have friends who were unable to type for up to a year because of RSIs---if you let this go it could really really suck). Go to your campus health center: they've probably seen dozens of cases like yours and if necessary can refer you to an occupational therapist.
posted by goingonit at 8:47 PM on April 5, 2007

Best answer: Yes, it sounds like an RSI. Here's an article I wrote a while back that I must've linked to on AskMe a dozen times, whenever this comes up.

See a doctor. Odds are, you'll get a tendinitis (one common kind of RSI) diagnosis, an NSAID prescription, and maybe a physical therapy referral. (IANAD; this is speculation; nothing I or anyone here says should be considered a substitute for seeing a doctor.)

If it's RSI, please take it seriously, and make some changes before it snowballs into worse and more frequent pain. I didn't.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:46 PM on April 5, 2007

Nthing that it's some sort of RSI, tendinitis instead of CTS, and you should take it seriously. I didn't, and lost 18 months to a lot of pain, discomfort, and drugs. Careful with Advil or any other NSAID. Take too much for too long and you can give yourself a stomach ulcer. If you need to take it regularly, talk to your doctor about a proton pump inhibitor. But don't just say "well, it goes away quickly" and ignore it. It can get much worse in no time at all.
posted by Martin E. at 5:29 AM on April 6, 2007

Best answer: This same thing happened to me maybe 2-3 years ago. (Also play guitar, also CS major, now software developer) It was very scary initially, but I knew that my workspace was setup like crap. The CEO at the company I work for used to have some sort of mental disorder about having all the desks in an area at the same height - something that was clearly ridiculous when you have a guy @ 5'9", another @ 6'2" and a woman @ 5'3" working in the same space.

This book was very helpful in educating me about all the adjustments you can do to your workspace in order to make it pain-free and comfortable. There is a lot of information out on the internet for free too. Some important things for me were getting the desk height, monitor height and keyboard setup correct.

The thing I think that made the biggest difference though was learning to work mostly without the use of a mouse. Keyboard shortcuts all the way!

With the guitar playing, also always make sure you warm up first. Like any other exercise, you can hurt your hands if they don't get the stretching they need.
posted by zackola at 6:34 AM on April 6, 2007

Another thing I'd like to add -- while I'm wholly adamant about the importance of seeing a doctor, I'm just as adamant that your response to this should not end with just taking NSAIDs -- you'll need to educate yourself and train yourself in new habits.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:53 AM on April 6, 2007

Besides taking regular mini-breaks, stretching and changing your posture and workspace I can really recommend switching to a (preferably large) drawing tablet instead of a mouse. You can get the same problems with overusing the tablet of course but the (bigger) movements are a lot easier on your muscles. And if you do start to feel a strain you can switch back to the mouse for an hour or so. I switch between a mouse, a tablet and a track ball to keep the repetitiveness to a minimum (I'm a graphic designer so not using any of these devices is not really an option).
posted by dinkyday at 1:01 AM on April 8, 2007

Response by poster: I happen to use a ThinkPad a lot - is the little pointer-nub better than a mouse in this case? I'm already working on improving my posture (that was admittedly terrible) and thinking about mousing problems.
posted by tmcw at 8:41 PM on April 8, 2007

Different people find different movements and tools produce less strain on their wrists. Personally, I find the TrackPoint to be the least bad portable device, but prefer my Quill Mouse.
posted by grouse at 9:08 PM on April 8, 2007

Other than being a short person dealing with one-workspace-size-fits-all CubicleLand, mouse use definitely was a big part of the problem for me -- I tried various alternates including a touchpad and trackballs and eventually found that what worked best for me was a Logitech Marble Mouse -- it's a non-handed design, so if one arm starts getting twingey I can switch it from right- to left-handed use or vice versa.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 9:15 PM on April 8, 2007

As a long-typing, guitar-playing, rock-climbing tendonitis sufferer, I would add that STOPPING the problem activities will help you to heal faster, even though it sucks to stop doing the things you love for weeks or months at a time. If it's impossible for you to stop typing (as a CS major), do a major overhaul of your ergonomic setup and work-habits ASAP.

Give your arms twice as long to heal as you think you need (probably talking in terms of months), then start doing rehabilitating stretches and light exercise (look around online) and work back up very slowly. It's not worth the risk to push too hard; one tweak and you're back at the start line.
posted by Chris4d at 1:50 AM on April 10, 2007

« Older Experience with Lake Greeley Camp?   |   I'm a very good driver... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.