The Stop Sign

My body just gave me a stop sign: For four days now, three fingers and half of the palm of my right hand are numb and prickle. You can imagine that I was quite upset, because having some serious issue with my hands is my worst nightmare: I already envisioned my hand rotting off, so I could never play the piano again.

When it did not get any better, I saw a neurologist at the hospital the other day, after some work at the institute. (When I was finished, no medical practice was open anymore, but I knew I had to clarify this to be able to get some sleep later on.) After two hours of waiting in the emergency department, I got a 10 minutes check from head to toe. Now I know that I have (1) neither a brain tumor (2) nor multiple sclerosis. However, I have a serious irritation of the nerve that runs along the downside of my right forearm, which quite certainly stems from working at my computer many hours every day and putting my arm down on the table while typing, reading, or marking in pdf files, so that all the weight of my arm comes to rest upon that nerve. I have to look after it and relieve it now, otherwise I will risk paralysis of my hand. If it does not get any better, I have to see a doctor again.

I am currently experimenting around with different positions of my arm while working. Apparently, the nerve is irritated at the whole length of my forearm, from the ball of my hand to the elbow, so however I put it, as soon as it lies down for more than a few seconds, I already feel the numbness and prickling increasing. You can imagine this is quite annoying, especially having to use the mouse without my hand touching the table. I have dragged my laptop to the front edge of the table now so I can type with both my arms in the air completely. This is, of course, more exerting in the long run, and I often have to make breaks and let my arms just hang down to relieve them. But at least I can type at all – everything else would be fatal! And in the future, when the nerve has gotten better again, putting the arm on a pillow while working might be a solution to prevent it from coming back. This is a tricky thing because it affects an activity that is so central in what I do professionally, and therefore almost vital for my future existence. But it is a definite sign to look after me and do not push too much.

Do you have signs of wear from something you do or did at lot, and now have to deal with them in long range?

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Filed under :(, Lalala

65 responses to “The Stop Sign

  1. Oh dear, that is no good. Make sure you take regular breaks when working at the computer. Maybe even bashin out a bit of rock n roll on the piano every now and then would get the blood moving though the hands?

    For me my overused joints are definitely my knees. They are giving me trouble at the moment and think I need to give up running :-(

  2. I’m so sorry Kath! I’m sure that’s so painful and making life/work incredibly difficult. Is just resting the nerve supposed to help?

    Yes, definitely look after yourself and honor your body!

    • I’m constantly torn between giving my nerve some rest and making progress with my thesis. The best would be to put it to rest completely, I suppose, I but that would put me out of contention for weeks at least. Thank goodness there isn’t too much pain by now, but so far, it hasn’t gotten any better and also hurt today for some time. :(

  3. Lenna (veganlenna)

    I am so sorry!! That´s terrible, but at least, it is no tumor or sclerosis! Actually my mom suffered from the same condition and the background of it was the same – too much computer work, putting her hand on the desk etc. It was painful but she´s already cured, so I keep finger crossed for you, hopefully this won´t last long!

  4. From one musician to another, I can relate how frustrating it is not to be having to use your ‘tools’ (fingers). Please take it easy for now. Rest and stay positive. :)

  5. Oh Kath I am so sorry you are having to deal with this! Though let’s focus for a minute and celebrate there’s no brain tumor and MS! Your body is telling you to rest and take things slow, I am sure you have been working so much it needs a breather… I was reading an article and the eye doc said we really should be looking or walking away from our computer monitor every 30 minutes or so to prevent eye strain. Maybe this would be a good rule of thumb for all of us, and not just for eye health… Take care!

  6. I’m sorry to hear this, and do want to say to be careful. I’ve actually had issues with this since I was about 15, and have pretty much accepted living with chronic pain and tingling in my hands/fingers/wrist/elbow/upper arm/shoulder as a result. Everything in life that I love involves typing, and while I can live without cross-stitch (which makes the pain unbearable), I can’t stop typing. So be careful – you don’t want to end up like me!

  7. :( I am sorry! I had back surgery a few years ago (and also wrist surgery) and so I have to be quite careful about what I do now.

  8. Oh my goodness, that’s awful, Kath! Hopefully your little modifications will help and you will get some relief soon. It really is amazing what our bodies will withstand…but I think a lot of times we take those repetitive movements for granted. It’s kind of hard to explain unless you know what a CAT scan machine looks like (actually, you probably had a head scan when you went to the ER), but when I’m at work, we have a switch on the end of each of the tables that goes into the bore (open circle) of the unit. After years of using the same arm to push/pull the table in and out nearly 50 times a day, I’ve realized that it’s taken a toll on my rotator cuff on my right arm. Lately I’ve been trying to use my other arm as well, or when I can use a button on the machine that does it for me (but much, much slower I might add). I’m just relieved that there are alternative options out there for me so that it doesn’t end up getting worse…unfortunately, the ultrasound techs that I work with have a strong susceptibility for getting carpal tunnel syndrome in their right wrists from using the ultrasound wand over and over, but they can’t really do much about that since the machines are made to work in that way. :-/

    • You’re so right, we often don’t even notice we do the same movements over and over again, and our bodies don’t like it. Is your arm a little better by now, that you’ve started switching? It’s really a problem when your profession doesn’t allow you to rest what you use all the time, as you said about the ultrasound techs. With me it’s kind of the same with typing, as an academic-to-be. I wouldn’t be able to do my job without computer work. :?

      • It’s a little better now yes, but I do have some other underlying problems (like the fact that the only way I can sleep without my arms above my head is by wrapping myself in duct tape) so I still have some limited mobility. You know how most people can take their forearm and put in on their lower back? Well, I can only do that with my left arm right now…but I’ve been working with my chiropractor and I think it’s getting a little better.

        • That’s good to hear that it’s a little better already. I can relate to the immobility problems because I have a wrecked elbow joint, and when it inflames again, I can hardly sleep because I don’t know how to put the arm. I’m so sorry! :(

          healing waves for your arm ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ :)

  9. I am so sorry to hear that! I had the exact thing a couple of years ago. After an MRI, it was discovered that I had a pinched nerve in my neck. It actually caused me to take a leave from work and I retired early. The pain was incredible. The best thing I found was physiotherapy! It actually made me cry sometimes, but eventually it improved my situation. As for using the computer, having the keyboard lowered helps a lot. Be careful!!!

  10. I have nominated you for the versatile blogger award. If you decide to accept, the rules state that you provide a link back to me, nominate 15 of your favourite bloggers, inform them personally, provide links to them and tell seven things about yourself that readers may not know. Happy blogging!

  11. Oh yeah. Been there, done that. When I was doing my PhD, the massage therapist and physiotherapistS (yes, two of them), all of whom I saw weekly, said the same thing: “PhD stands for “permanent health damage”. If your body doesn’t like it, you have to stop”. And I didn’t. But now that I have, the headaches, neck aches and the persistent right forearm difficulties (that led to numb fingers from pinching nerves) have all stopped. Intellectual pursuits are not kind to bodies, sadly! Feel better soon!

  12. Jos

    Your arm problem sounds very familiar to me as I also use my computer mouse a lot when working. Do you use any wrist pad while using the mouse? It might help to support your wrist thus won’t put too much stress on your elbow. Just remember to stretch out your arms often and I know it’s hard when you’re concentrating working in front of the computer.

    I also had something similar as you when I was working (I felt it more on my right wrist) and I switched the regular mouse to a tablet and I never have that problem anymore. Holding a pen tablet is more natural for my hands, especially doing design stuff on the computer.
    Anyway, take care of yourself! ;)

  13. Dee

    oh no! I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope that your nerve heals quickly and you start to feel better again soon. (hug)

  14. oh no! (I love the smiley with the finger wag!).

    I’m happy it gave you a warning so you can take care of it! I hope the feeling is coming back – our bodies withstand a lot, and can also repair quickly!

    I confess, I am a recovering Online Solitaire addict (second time that has come up today – I sure hope I am not going to relapse!) and I acquired Dequervains Tendonitis in my wrist/thumb. My doc said it was from computer repetition and work related practices, but Jason always jokes that it was my solitaire playing. I would play a lot…

  15. I’m so sorry about your repetitive strain injury!!! You are wise to take care of it right away. I’ve never had one myself so I can’t offer much advice, except to perhaps read up as much as you can and find out how to get that under control! Get better soon!

  16. Shoulders, first the left and then the right. OOoooooh. I never knew how I needed them until I couldn’t use them. Doing well now. Hang in there. Ever try raw food? ;-)

  17. Klh

    I’m sorry Kath! I hope you can find something that helps to relief this!

    Katie : )

  18. Oh my goodness. I just adore, adore, adore Morcheeba – so excited you’re also a fan. I have been having tingling in my hands and legs for several months now; my doctor originally thought it was a symptom of Celiac, but since eliminated gluten from my diet, I still have these sensations. Now I’m very much thinking we have yet another similarity. I’m so sorry to learn that you are struggling with this, but also thankful that I ran across it and have learned of your action plan. Best of luck to you!

    • I *love* trip hop music, so yeah – Massive Attack, Morcheeba, Björk, Hooverphonic, … Give me more! :D

      I think that tingling and numbness in your hands and legs may simply be due to stress on the nerves, and those need weeks or even months to recover. Hope yours get better soon, too!

  19. Oh no! You never realize how often you use something on your body until it hurts to do so. I hope you experience some relief soon!

    • Thank you, Kate! This is really it: We don’t realize how badly our body is adapted to doing the same movements over and over again until we get injured. So yeah, I hope this will get better. It hasn’t yet, but nerves need their time to recover. :)

  20. Phoenix

    Our body tells us. You can use Johanniskrautöl (couldn’t find the English word for it) on your wrist and arm – it soothes the nerves. But it is a red oil and can colour your sleeves. And what about an external and ergonomically designed keyboard for your laptop? It gives you more freedom for writing. Love and take care.

  21. Could you construct something that makes your elbow and your wrist lay down but leaves the rest of the forearm in the air? Can you imagine what kind of construction I mean? Would that help? Does strengthening the forearm-muscles help?

  22. P.S. That really sucks. I hope you don’t let it devestate you or put you in a bad mood!

  23. Take it easy Kath. I have found that swinging my arms in whole clockwise and anti clockwise does help in circulation although I’m not sure if it’s appropriate for all kinds of aches and pains. Get well soon!

  24. Oh no Kath. That’s not good. I tend to push myself too, and you reminded me to look after my body. I’ve been sleeping for like 4-5 hrs everyday because I simply don’t have enough time for everything I want to do….but here and there I start to feel exhaustion. Your “stop” call was actually for me too. Please take good care of yourself Kath. Take it slow and I really want you to be healthy and happy.

  25. Oh, no! So sorry to hear that. I sure hope it is short lived. Take care!

  26. I hope everything is okay, Kath! I do get nerve pain, especially in my arms and hands. Seriously need to be careful about positioning at the computer.

  27. Rest is VERY unrestful for me….and yet, something I seek. That internal quietness. Not to figure it out. Not to find balance. Not to recenter. Or reconnect. Or heal even. It is a sense of me-ness. And it is terrifying.
    May you find some comfort.

  28. Pingback: Taking Measures | My Funny Little Life

  29. Oh you poor thing! As you know I’m off work at the moment due to right shoulder injuries from a fall at work, the trouble is that as my left arm has had to pick up the slack I’ve developed de quervains in my hand and another type of tendonsinitious down the forearm as well. So now I’m in a sling with my right arm, waiting on surgery and 2 braces on my left arm as well :(. Do WHATEVER you can to get your arm/hand back to normal. Delaying something important for a month or so short term is SO much better than health issues in the long term.Please look after yourself Kath,it’s not worth messing with your health (or piano playing!)

  30. Lyn

    Oh no! I’m sorry to know about this and hope you’re better now. Take good care of your health and try not too stay too long hours at your pc. ;)

  31. Oh my, I hope you’re doing better!

    I had a similar experience a few years ago, when a nerve got pinched and my entire left alarm went to sleep. It’s scary!

  32. Pingback: Silence | My Funny Little Life

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