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Repetitive Stress Injury

I’ve heard it said that if you’re a writer, it’s not a matter of if you’ll develop a repetitive stress injury, but when. Looks like 2014 was my year.

I’ve been getting pains in my shoulders for months now. In the beginning, it was little more than a twinge. I assumed I’d pulled something at karate, and then when it didn’t go away, I thought maybe I was sleeping on my arm wrong, or I needed a different pillow. It was annoying, but not incapacitating.

But it didn’t go away, and it gradually got worse. If I used my right hand and tried to reach around to touch the back of my left shoulder, pain jabbed through the core of those upper arm muscles. If I used the left hand and reached for the right, it was worse. So I finally headed over to the friendly neighborhood Doctor-Man, who had no problem diagnosing me:

Chris Rock

Wait, what? No, that’s not– Stupid random Dogma references sneaking into my blog post!

Anyway, the doctor diagnosed me with biceps tendonitis, which is an inflammation of the long head — get your mind out of the gutter — of the biceps tendon.

The good news is that it’s not terribly severe. He put me on anti inflammatories, told me to try icing the shoulders, and talked about the kinds of thing that can cause this injury to develop, and what to do about it. This talk can be boiled down to, “Whatever you’re doing to mess up your shoulders, stop doing it!

As far as I can tell, the problem is that the arms of my desk chair at work were a little too low. This means the tendons were strained by holding my arms up all day while I’m typing. Why was the left shoulder worse than the right? Because I mouse left-handed.

It’s been about a week, and my right shoulder is noticeably improved. The left … that’s going a little more slowly, but hopefully it will catch up.

Ah well. If all else fails and my left arm never heals, there’s always this option from He-Man…


Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 30th, 2014 01:38 pm (UTC)
Oh no! That sucks. I hope it gets better soon. I had something similar happen to me a few months ago and I went to my chiropractor and *knock on wood* so far so good.
Jun. 30th, 2014 02:01 pm (UTC)
Where your mouse is in relation to your body makes a huge difference. The more you use your hands/arms with your arms extended, the more strain it puts on your biceps and rotator cuff. (That's what caused most of my problem - my mouse was not only off to the side, but far enough to require nearly full arm extension.)

Try to place it so that your elbow stays tucked in against your body. I now have my mouse on a keyboard drawer almost dead-center in front of me, and have considerably fewer pain episodes.

Also, ice is your friend. Not only an ice pack on the bicep when you first feel twinges, but also a gel ice pack as a wrist rest as a preventative.

Good luck!
(Edited because my grammar checker hadn't had its coffee yet when I posted this morning...)

Edited at 2014-06-30 05:56 pm (UTC)
Jun. 30th, 2014 10:18 pm (UTC)
I've already been using the ice packs, and they definitely help with the ache!
Jun. 30th, 2014 02:14 pm (UTC)
I have similar issues, but with my shoulder muscles. I keep them more-or-less under-control with exercise, and intermittent trips to an osteopath. I hope yours settle down quickly.
Jun. 30th, 2014 03:31 pm (UTC)
You're a real writer now!
Jun. 30th, 2014 10:14 pm (UTC)
Yay! :-/
Jun. 30th, 2014 04:18 pm (UTC)
Ow! I had a similar problem when I got a new desk chair until I finally figured out that I needed to fix the height of the arms so that I no longer was straining the muscles.

On mousing: I know this is not always an option, but (since you mouse left-handed) if you can get a secretary's desk with a right-hand return, you can put the computer on the return and then support your arm on the desk while mousing. This takes a remarkable amount of strain off the system. I've been doing this for thirty years now, much to the amusement of some of my colleagues who think that a secretary desk is the opposite of a status symbol.

Well, I suppose it is. But my mousing arm doesn't bother me. :)
Jun. 30th, 2014 10:15 pm (UTC)
I actually switched the mouse back to the right side the day after the diagnosis. Right arm is still doing okay, but it hasn't helped the left much yet...
Jun. 30th, 2014 05:09 pm (UTC)
I developed bursitis first on one elbow, then the other, a couple years back (it is also referred to as "Writer's elbow", which I found amusing and apt to no end). Turns out I was leaning on the arms of my chair while considering what came next in the book too often and caused the condition. I've removed the arms from every one of my desk chairs ever since, and it hasn't come back.

So, yeah, do what you need to do, adjust what you need to adjust, and keep on keeping on. Feel better.
Jun. 30th, 2014 06:10 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes, tendonitis. I'm been fighting that one for years. In my case, it is mostly in my right arm (forearm is the worst). I have changed chairs, desks, positions (not that kind--get your mind out of the gutter), all of which helps. Icing, definitely, and I found some good tendonitis exercises on YouTube.

Take care of yourself!
Jun. 30th, 2014 07:13 pm (UTC)
I highly recommend physiotherapy.

I first developed tendinitis as a first-year university student. Clarinet major and writer who'd just discovered the internet for the first time (it was 1994, what do you expect?). It was worse in my right arm because I'm right-handed but also because the clarinet rests on the right thumb when playing. Woo! Got a neck strap, learned some stretches at physio.

Many years later, I had a flare. Working at a church as a secretary. We got me a cordless mouse so I could use it right in front of me and that helped a lot. Went to a new physiotherapist, learned some new stretches, added some weights.

A couple of years ago I was playing with a community band (wind ensemble) and had a horrible flare. Went straight to a physiotherapist since I knew by now exactly what was going on. Except now I have pinched nerves all through my upper body and neck. So I have tendinitis in both arms, pinched nerves all over my torso and neck, and people wonder why I hurt so much of the time. Naproxen is my friend, I use it when the pain is really severe and impacting my activities. I have my favourite stretches now, after getting stuff from three different physiotherapists over the years, and I have braces and tennis elbow straps.

It's probably ridiculous but I can't give up typing and if I'm ever going to play again I need to be able to manage the pain.
Jun. 30th, 2014 07:26 pm (UTC)
hope the fixes work, and the pain goes away
Jun. 30th, 2014 08:00 pm (UTC)
My massage therapist is my best friend ever. I started going when my shoulder froze after I broke it (I kept writing! I just needed my keyboard much closer to my body!) and haven't stopped since. I just keep hoping I can continue to afford it.
Jun. 30th, 2014 10:16 pm (UTC)
My brother-in-law is a chiropractor. I'm hoping to get over to his place later this week.
Jun. 30th, 2014 09:11 pm (UTC)
I've been using an ergonomic keyboard for awhile now, but what's weird about me is that I use a regular desk (now--used to be an old kitchen table) for a desk. I rest my elbows on the desk and my wrists are slightly elevated and leaning on the rest of the keyboard, and then I can type. So far no rsi. But I find the keyboard trays on computer desks far too low for me and I like to rest on my elbows. I've often wondered if the low tray is all that ergonomic, or if I'm odd because I'm long waisted and therefore the trays are too low for me.

Anyhow, I hope you feel better. Cause I KNOW you aren't going to stop what causes the injury. Carry on now. Go make words :D
Jun. 30th, 2014 10:15 pm (UTC)
"Anyhow, I hope you feel better. Cause I KNOW you aren't going to stop what causes the injury."

This is a "Takes one to know one" situation, isn't it :-)
Jun. 30th, 2014 10:27 pm (UTC)
Yep. I'm surprised you didn't point and laugh at the doc.
Jul. 1st, 2014 12:13 am (UTC)
Ouch! :/ RSI is awful. You definitely have my sympathies. Get well soon, Jim. Keep writin'. :) It sounds like you're doing all the right things to get better.

I find that keeping the keyboard close to me (and breaks from using the mouse / keyboard every 30 minutes) helps reduce pain.
Jul. 1st, 2014 02:52 am (UTC)
Yikes! Do take care of yourself. I've never had tendonitis, but I have had carpal tunnel once or twice, and it's no fun. My back has been enjoying a LOT less pain since I got a wireless keyboard though. Amazing what a difference that makes.
Jul. 1st, 2014 03:19 pm (UTC)
stress injuries
A good physical therapist can also work wonders. Stress injuries can occur by mis-using the wrong (usually smaller) muscle groups to perform actions better supported by large muscles. My daughter, a competitive dancer, has seen her PT off/on for years depending on her level of training. Massage and exercises are fantastic tools to feeling better. Good Luck!
Jul. 1st, 2014 04:34 pm (UTC)
I developed arm and shoulder problems with my mouse hand. I switched to a stationary mouse, one where you roll a ball on top of the mouse to move the pointer around the screen so the only thing you move is two of your fingers. The pain went away overnight!
Jul. 1st, 2014 09:14 pm (UTC)
Have you ever looked into a speech-to-text thing like Dragon Naturally Speaking? I've heard that for some people, if you train it sufficiently, you can get really high accuracy when just speaking to the computer. Then you could alternate between typing and talking to get down your writing.

Also, as someone who types for a living (I do real-time captioning for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the classroom), I've found that my main problems are upper-back pain if I'm not sitting right, or hand and wrist pain.

For hand/wrist pain, good wrist braces worn at night make a huge difference for me. I've gotten more pain relief from the hard night braces. Basically they make it so you can't bend your wrists, which is something I tend to do while I sleep. I know you said you're having a different sort of pain, but you might look into an elbow brace or something similar, to avoid stressing the tendon accidentally in your sleep. I would also recommend the wrist braces as a preventative measure, as well as a pair of the supportive ones you wear during the day. Actually, if you get a pair with built-in wrist-rests (basically little pouches of bead material that are sewn into the gloves) that might help your arm-alignment some because it forces your wrists up off the keyboard.

I'd also recommend an adjustable table of some sort for your keyboard or laptop. Before I got my current position I was doing the same job, only freelance, and I hadn't discovered the joy of adjustable-height laptop stands. All my typing in classes is done on a laptop. I kept finding myself in classrooms where the table was too high, and I had the WORST upper-back pain after some of those classes. It was really terrible, and I'm probably lucky that I didn't end up with permanent damage.

I currently use a Stenograph Cool Table, originally intended for stenographers to put their steno machines on, but it works really well for laptops, and you can also use it at a desk to put a keyboard on so you can get the right height for ergonomic typing. I HIGHLY recommend something like that, especially if your desk at work is too high. Since I have to work in lots of weird classrooms, with different-sized chairs, I also carry around a pair of foam yoga blocks to use as footrests, so I can sit up straight in a chair and have my feet flat instead of hanging. I don't know how adjustable your chair is but you might check that out, too.

Incidentally, if you're interested in ergonomic mice I can recommend the joystick-style ones (you'll know what I mean if you look into them. They take a little adjustment but they're sooooo much better on the hands, in my experience.

Good luck with everything! Wouldn't want you to stop writing!!!! :)
Jul. 2nd, 2014 01:33 am (UTC)
My arm story
Painting, typing, and handwriting in college gave me a bad case of tennis and golfer's elbow in my dominant arm that still flares up to this day.

PT helped for a bit (even got one round of steroids shot) but not very much, though it taught me about how to ice and heat an injury. Acupuncture helped a little. But for years, on and off, I had to take an Aleve daily to get some relief.

Now I mouse on my non-dominant hand, use a trackball (which I am never never never never ever giving up), occasionally feed myself with my non-dominant hand (I always wanted to be ambidextrous!), most nights wear carpal tunnel braces to bed (Wellgate brand for women is spectacular.), and sometimes a baseball elbow wrap too. Overuse is something I gotta watch for, obviously, but oddly enough, emotional stress makes the arm flare up. (My Beau tells me I hold all my tension in one shoulder.)

But the thing that helped me the most, I think, was starting a regular exercise routine on my own: 50 min of exercise daily (10 mins each of arms, lower body, whole body, abs, and a stretch 3x a week, 50 min of cardio the other 3 days). I think it helps my body get out of repetitive positions and stretch out muscles.



Edited at 2014-07-02 01:42 am (UTC)
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines

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