It occurred to me that I've yet to discuss my problems in any depth in this blog. You probably won't find it terribly fascinating, but I'm going to post a permanent link anyway, so people can see where I'm coming from when I review a product. Sometimes it can be helpful just reading about somebody else who has the same problems you do. Just remember, RSI tends to vary from person to person, and therapies that have worked for me may not work for you and vice versa.
My symptoms/computer-related problems:
Pain across the backs of the hand. According to everything I've read, this generally falls under RSI (repetitive stress/strain injury). The doctors I visited weren't much help in diagnosing the problem or recommending anything worthwhile to help treat this (more on that below).
Headaches and tension in the shoulders/neck/jaw (I've even had related toothaches despite there being nothing wrong with my teeth).
I started in on computer use young, first for typing homework, later for play. By the time I graduated from high school, I was addicted to BBS online games. As technology advanced, so did the games out there. The worst was Everquest which I fell in love with and played religiously for three years. That was in addition to having a job where I typed all the time.
Needless to say, it wasn't a big surprise when I started experiencing pain in my hands. I was only 25 (don't think RSI is only something that bothers people who have been working at computers for 20 years) at the time. I quit gaming, but it was harder to quit work (pesky food and rent requirements).
When easing back didn't get rid of the pain, I went to the doctor. She declared tendonitis as my problem. She gave me wrist braces to wear when sleeping, and if it helped, when typing. She also prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine. Neither helped. The drugs just made me more apt to go back to work since they dulled the pain. The pain came back. It got to the point where driving and even little things like taking a pitcher out of the refrigerator were hurting my hands.
I was referred to a hand specialist who started with a similar anti-inflammatory prescription. In addition, he told me to put a rubber band around my fingers and thumb and do exercises where I spread my fingers. He eventually gave me some other physical therapy type exercises. Neither of these things helped. No one ever recommended surgery (probably because they were quite sure what I had).
I'm convinced that if I could have just taken a few months away from the computer completely, I would have had a much better shot at healing. Unfortunately, since I'm self-employed, there's no such thing as workman's comp. It was never financially feasible for me to take as long a break as I probably needed.
I saw the hand specialist a couple more times, and he seemed more perplexed than anything by my condition. This, and the fact that none of his treatments were making a difference, diminished my confidence in him. The whole experimental style of let's try this, and if that doesn't work, we'll try this didn't sit well with me. That may very well be what needed to be done, but not at $150 a visit.
I stopped going to the hand specialist and turned to the library and the Internet. I'd read about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but I was pretty sure that wasn't what I had. My wrists were fine. It wasn't until I chanced upon It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! RSI Theory and Therapy for Computer Professionals (an excellent book you'll see me reference often) that I found a name for my condition.
RSI. Repetitive Strain Injury. Knowing what the problem was and that other people out there had it (and had equal trouble finding doctors who understood it well) was a relief in itself.
Through reading, I've learned a number of ways to combat RSI, about office ergonomics and how important it is to set up your workspace correctly, and a lot of other stuff I chat about in this blog.
I'm still learning. If you have conflicting information on anything I post, feel free to leave comments, or recommend sites or books. I try to inform but not to "advise", since I'm not qualified to do so, but sometimes my opinions may come across like that, so please remember that nothing here should be mistaken for qualified medical advice.
My current status:
Through the use of stretching (yoga, actually), exercising (swimming and weightlifting--I choose machines that don't put a lot of pressure on my wrists/hands), and frequent breaks throughout the day, I've mostly eliminated the tension stuff along with making my body stronger and more able to tolerate the long hours at the computer.
The RSI comes and goes. It's much better than it was a year ago, but those weeks where I put in 60 hours on the computer take their toll, and the pain usually flares up. As much as I complain about Dragon NaturallySpeaking, it's the only thing that has allowed me to continue to do my work and pay the bills. I have gone back to school, in part as a result of all this, and I'm hoping to earn a Master's degree, maybe eventually a Ph.D., so I can teach instead of pounding at the keyboard for the rest of my life.
UPDATE: 1/22/05: RSI Update, My Hands Have Been Feeling Better