Is this numbness a problem?
June 27, 2008 4:41 AM   Subscribe

I've recently developed a tingling sensation in my hands and elbow whenever I use my home computer.

Obviously, I'm looking into improving my posture, chair height, etc. to reduce this problem, so any advice on that is helpful. My main concern, however, is the sudden onset. I can remember using my computer without having this problem two days ago, now it happens whenever I use the mouse for more than five minutes. Is this a symptom of something I should see a doctor about? Any advice is appreciated.
posted by Bulgaroktonos to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
See if any of this matches what you've experienced - CTS, Ulnar nerve entrapment.
posted by fire&wings at 5:03 AM on June 27, 2008

Try switching your mouse over to the other hand. A bit of rest may be all you need.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:14 AM on June 27, 2008

If you are resting your elbow on the arm of a chair, try using an armless chair. Worked for me.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:49 AM on June 27, 2008

I had a similar problem a few years back, and switching to an ergonomic keyboard (at work and home both) made it completely disappear.
posted by clarahamster at 5:57 AM on June 27, 2008

I had this randomly start happening about a year ago. I figured out that the problem was that I was awkwardly bending my wrist and hand to push the arrow keys with my right pinky finger. I remapped my arrow keys to the right-side Alt, Windows, Apps, and Ctrl keys using AutoHotKey, and I haven't had any problems with it since.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:10 AM on June 27, 2008

I too had a similar problem. It helped when I went to an ergonomic keyboard, trackball and a small wrist-rest that I use under my elbow. A good chair may also help.
posted by nimsey lou at 6:21 AM on June 27, 2008

Think of your hand as a glass of water.
When it's filled over half, the pain comes.
Using the computer slowly makes the water level go up.
Taking a break makes it go down.
However it goes up faster than it comes down.

So the idea is to use the computer less or watch more movies.
posted by PowerCat at 6:25 AM on June 27, 2008

To actually answer your question... It could be Ulnar Nerve Entrapment. Depends on which fingers are going numb. You could also just be putting pressure on your "funny bone" AKA Ulnar Nerve. When I went to my doc I had told her I thought it might be UNE and I ended up having an MRI. No UNE but I did find out that I have a bulging disc in my back that presses on my ulnar nerve at times.
Change some things up and if you still have issues, then see your doc.
posted by nimsey lou at 6:25 AM on June 27, 2008

My main concern, however, is the sudden onset.

Yes, this is exactly how RSI works. Be careful, or it might turn into a sudden disability.

This is likely the most serious medical condition you have ever faced. I have dozens of friends with permanent limitation that their hand function because of RSI. For many of them, including myself, the pain never leaves.

Advice #1 : Stop typing and go see a doctor.

I have a few friends who healed without doctors. They read a lot and followed the advice of other RSI sufferers. If you don't know anyone around you with RSI, then you definitely need a doctor.

Advice #2 : Read everything about wrists health. This question comes up about once a month. Start here
posted by gmarceau at 7:05 AM on June 27, 2008

Does it ever feel like you HAVE to move your arm do get it to go away? But then it still doesn't? Because I've been having that type of feeling that I don't know how to describe occasionally.
posted by majikstreet at 7:12 AM on June 27, 2008

If you have health insurance, see a doctor with a mind toward getting a referral to a physical therapist. I had this happen to me... the PT guy gave me a sheet of exercises, some guidance on "buddy-taping" fingers together with elastic bands and whatnot... I did my exercises and without even noticing it, really, found that my problems went away in about a month. YMMV of course, but I'm just sayin'... there are professional people who know what you need to do to fix this. You need to go and see them in person so that they can manipulate your hands, feel for bone spurs, watch you move, etc. etc.
posted by mumkin at 7:18 AM on June 27, 2008

You might also consider switching to the Dvorak keyboard layout. That did the trick for me years ago - no more wrist pain. You should also get typeit4me (Mac) or Activewords (Windows) to act as a bit lever, so you can type faster with fewer keystrokes.

I also agree with the suggestions to use one-touch app switching, via QuicKeys or something similar; switch the mouse to the other hand. You might find more ideas in my book Bit Literacy.
posted by mark7570 at 8:10 AM on June 27, 2008

I had exactly the same thing when I switched to using an ergonomic mouse (the irony!) but it went away after about a week.
posted by alby at 9:03 AM on June 27, 2008

Could be RSI. My husband and I both have RSI; mine sounds like yours. Mine's controllable with regular back massage, with the occasional application of topical ibuprofen and/or heat. In my case, though, the problem is definitely muscle tension in my upper back causing pressure on a nerve; the root cause of yours may be different.

Longer term, it may be appropriate to use a program such as Workrave, which monitors your computer usage and forces you to take breaks at intervals to stretch, etc.

In any case; see a doctor. Your wrists and hands are precious, precious things. It may be expensive to do this, but I can assure you it is significantly more expensive to be unable to use your hands and wrists for days or weeks at a time (this happens occasionally to both myself and my husband; a friend of ours has it much more severely than we do).
posted by ysabet at 1:57 PM on June 27, 2008

Install that annoying break software too. Basically, you now have to do everything that people have told you to do that sounded too annoying at the time.

It also might help to ice either the area or your elbow or something (something in my elbow was swollen, though my pinky was going numb).

Laptops are far worse than desktops.
posted by salvia at 8:54 PM on June 27, 2008

I'd think a sudden onset would be the result of some nerve damage, like hitting your 'funny bone', although there's nothing funny about it. If you use the computer a lot, look at other input devices besides mice. I had some RSI issues, and switching to using a Wacom tablet at home, whilst still using the mouse at work worked wonders. Problem is, I now prefer the stylus. If work wasn't a primarily Linux environment, I'd use a tablet all the time, which if course would just result in RSI again. However, I've been at home for months now, and have some numbness in my lower fingers already from using the stylus all day. There's just no winning. If it's RSI, you've got to cut back usage. If it's temporary nerve damage, it should probably go away on its own. But, I'm not a doctor, and don't act as one on TV either, so it's worthwhile to get it checked-out, although all the doc told me was to use a cold compress and some Tylenol. Not very helpful for long-term treatment.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 3:34 AM on June 28, 2008

All right, I have just written up a 2000 words article containing everything I have to say about RSI.

It's even available in French.

posted by gmarceau at 6:27 AM on June 29, 2008

gmarceau: All good advice. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

The main thing I can suggest, again, is to mix it up. There's mice out there specifically for this, although I never found one I liked. Like I mentioned previously, a Wacom 440 helped me personally the most, the stylus being more natural than a mouse. I think it was really the scroll wheel on top that caused me the most problems. But, everybody is different, if you do have RSI, you just need to try some different things to find what's most comfortable. There's a whole industry around mice for people with RSI, not to mention trackballs and the like. If you have a reasonable employer, talk to an HR person, they will be no stranger to this, and can probably let you borrow some different mice and things to see if you find one that works for you.

Although, given all that, I still suspect that being sudden, you might have just banged your arm and damaged one of the two main nerves that run inside there.

/Standard not a doctor disclaimer, and don't play one on TV either
posted by hungrysquirrels at 7:19 AM on June 29, 2008

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