LA RSI Support Group


reprinted with the permission of the author

"Vicki's Story" is reprinted here in its entirety. It is not intended to be a recommendation for treatment.

Date: Fri, 09 Feb 96 15:07:47 -0500
Subject: A positive story: My long, slow, complete recovery from CTS & TOS

Hello everyone:

    I originally sent this to sorehand in October 1995, so some of you have seen it. I've rewritten it slightly because I've recovered a little more in the last four months. I think I'm 99% of what I used to be.
    These last few weeks have been a good test of whether I've truly recovered. I'm a technical writer (lots of typing and mousing) and have been working on a deadline for a manual. I did lots of work the last few weeks and can say that I can do my job again for sure. In fact, one day I worked for 12 and a half hours practically nonstop. (I know this is a terrible thing to do, but I sort of wanted to see if it would cause a relapse. I'm happy to say it didn't.)
    My only problem now is a slight discomfort in my right arm, especially when I drive and my arm wants to hang down as far as it can but the console of my car gets in the way.

My problem:
In November 1994, on the Monday before the US election, both my hands and my right arm went on strike. Over the course of the next two months, I had virtually every symptom: total numbness of the right ring finger and pinky, severe wrist pain, numbness and tingling all over both my hands, a deadened right arm (not numb, just lifeless), pain in the right forearm, pain in the left elbow, etc. The symptoms changed weekly (some got better, some got worse, and new ones developed). I also had the under-the-skin itch, and even the soles of my feet hurt when I crossed my ankles while lying in bed. (Sounds farfetched, but it was part of my RSI problem, I'm sure.) The tendons of my hands hurt so much I could hardly sign my name. I had to buy a special writing instrument just to be able to move a pen across the page.
    My official diagnosis was bilateral CTS, but I also had tendinitis or tenosynovitis of the hands and TOS. I also believe I had forearm tendinitis.
    I got this problem because I broke every rule of ergonomics in my computer work. Honestly, looking back, I can't think of a single thing I did correctly. Not one!
    Nearly three months after my initial attack, I had nerve tests that revealed mild neuropathy in the right hand, borderline in the left. By this time I was really worried and contemplating becoming a bag lady. I became highly motivated to get better. In fact, I've never been so motivated in my life to achieve something. However, I don't know which things I did helped me the most. (One of my favorite mottos is: Correlation is not causation.)

Most Important Things I Did to Get Better:
1. Quit typing. (Early on, I decided that my hands meant more to me than my job, and I was on an official work restriction for five months. During that time, I never typed more than two hours a day, and often I only typed for one hour a day--spread out over the course of the day.)
    I asked my company for a Dragon Dictate, but I work for a very bureaucratic organization, and it was going to take months for me to get one. Finally I said, "Forget it. I've healed."

2. Set up my workstation ergonomically. I have my keyboard on a short little table that's about a yard away from the monitor. (I was intrigued by the information about positive ions being emitted from monitors.) My keyboard is very low, practically on top of my knees. The farther down my arms can drop, the happier they are.

3. Started taking nutritional supplements, including vitamins C and E and B6 (and a bunch of other stuff, nothing to excess). Also started eating better by cutting out much of the sugar in my diet.

4. Started doing yoga twice a week. When I first started the yoga, a month after my outbreak, I couldn't do a lot of the positions because my hands were so weak. But I worked up to doing them. It was terrific to go into yoga class and feel my hands and arms become alive again.
    The yoga helped my back and shoulder muscles very much. My entire posture has changed now.
    Also, I think that yoga breathing has undiscovered benefits for people. I've read speculation by my favorite doctor, Dr. Andrew Weill, that the deep yoga breathing might trigger some deep-seated healing processes in the body.
    I still go to yoga class twice a week and plan to do yoga as long as I live (the body willing, of course).

5. Started reading sorehand and everything else I could get my hands on. The Pascarelli and Quilter book was extremely helpful, as was much of the stuff on the Internet (particularly a long article by Richard Donkin that I've printed out and given to many people). Traditional medical articles were the least useful. The Donkin article is at:
RSI and Adverse Mechanical Tension.
    (Warning: Be careful if you do the neural stretch mentioned in the article. When I was having my problem, I did this stretch and was sore for days.)

6. Got a trackball (the mouse-trak from ITAC Systems). Started using my left hand to use the trackball (I still use my left hand for it).

7. Started meditating five days a week. I got so calm that one day I found myself driving 45 miles an hour on a highway while cars around me were driving at 70 miles an hour. That's so calm it's dangerous!

8. Had seven Bonnie Prudden myotherapy sessions, which definitely helped my neck and shoulders. One day after doing the BP stuff, I was driving my car and turned around to look to see if a car was coming and I saw something strange. What's that? It was my rear window! I'd never quite seen it before, because I didn't have enough mobility in my neck.
    Every day at work in the handicapped bathroom (appropriate place), I slavishly did the exercises the myotherapist gave me. I still do them a few times a week.

9. Read a book about the Alexander technique and had three group classes. The book taught me how to walk better. It's odd, but I actually had to read a book to learn how to relax my shoulders and walk with my head "falling upward."

10. Started doing Tai-Chi. I didn't start this until after I was mostly healed and back at work full-time, but I think it's good for the joints. (Arthritis runs in my family, and I'm trying to forestall it as long as I can.)

11. Wore magnets on my right wrist. The CTS symptoms in my right hand went away long before the symptoms in my left hand, even though my right hand was more injured.

What I Did Not Do:
1. I didn't take any drugs to mask the pain. I wanted to be aware of anything I was doing to harm myself. I did spend a lot of time in the bathroom doing the cold water/hot water treatment, and that helped with the pain. I became weary every day from the chronic pain (it's a real strain on your brain to be constantly processing the pain signals and trying to pretend they're not as bad as they are).
    Also, I was swayed by the argument put forth in the Pascarelli book that some doctors think taking anti-inflammatories is a mistake because it prevents the macrophages from carting away the waste products. (But other doctors say it helps prevent the waste products from developing in the first place. Who knows?)

2. I didn't put any faith in doctors. I have a lot of contempt for the medical-industrial complex, so I didn't let any doctors give me any bad advice (such as "typing isn't going to hurt you any more than you're already hurt"). My first doctor, my HMO guy, promptly diagnosed my injury as a work injury so that workers' comp would be responsible for me. My second doctor, an ignoramus, was useful for one reason: every three weeks he renewed my work restriction. Otherwise, he was a real small-picture guy.

3. I didn't wear splints soon enough. This was a BIG mistake. My hands hurt too much for me to wear splints, but I still should have worn them (loosely) at night. Practically every night I would wake up from pain in the hands or from my hands being asleep. If I could have kept my hands straightened out all night, a lot of my problem would have been alleviated. After I realized the importance of wearing my splints, I wore them every night for about seven months.

4. I didn't lower my keyboard soon enough.

5. I didn't realize that using the cross-country ski machine was going to reinjure my arms. Of course, I didn't know how much of an arm problem I had. I thought CTS was my main problem, whereas that was just my main symptom source. I'm still afraid to use the cross-country ski machine, though I can do actual cross-country skiing without any problem.

I think most people are capable of a full recovery. It just seems to take a very long time.

Good luck to all of us.
Vicki Meagher

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