Repetitive Stress Injuries / Hand & Wrist Pain

There’s an interesting thread over on Hairbrained about hand and wrist pain. As someone who’s lived with a mysterious hand/wrist condition since I was a teenager, I felt like sharing what I’ve learned about my own physical problem.

Click to read more of this wall-of-text post about RSI’s and hand troubles.

I’ve had, and occasionally have hand and wrist problems too. I once lost the use of both my hands for an entire year. Doctors have yet to figure out what’s wrong, despite more than a few tests, including shocking the nerves in my arm to measure their conductivity (which feels really weird by the way), and seeing specialists. They’ve just ruled out things it’s not. But after trying many things, and about 10 years of experience I’ve noticed a few things that are directly related to the problem, in my case:


Bad circulation. I have cold hands most of the time. If I do much while my hands are cold, I’ll injure myself. The solution: Get my blood flowing by doing something active for a few minutes (any good full body cardio thing, squats, jogging, etc). Warming my hands up in water or those wax things you can get does not help at all – it’s not a heat problem (That’s the symptom), it’s a circulation problem.

Being too aware of my hands. It might sound strange, but if I am paying too much attention to how I’m holding my hands, how my posture is, etc. then my hands are more likely to get injured. Whether that’s because I just notice it more because I’m paying attention of not is another question… The solution: Make good posture a habit, something I do without actively thinking about it.

Things I’m unaware of. The first thing people look at when you have hand problems is usually your posture when you are at the computer, or cutting hair, or doing whatever you do. I have good posture now, but I still get hand problems sometimes. Over the years I’ve found a number of subtle, but damaging things I do that I was unaware of: I twiddle my hair a lot. Like a nail biter, but a hair-twiddler. And when I look at it objectively, I do it enough (I don’t know for sure but I bet it’s hours a day, every single day – whenever I’m at the computer, reading, thinking, listening to music, watching a movie, etc) that the repeated motions can significantly impact my hands. I also sleep with my arms up under my pillow. (Baaaad for someone with already poor circulation!) The solution: Actively seek and destroy my bad habits.

Live a more varied life. I know this is obvious to everyone, but it’s one of those things that everyone seems to know intellectually, but not actually. Find new and different things to do with your time – if the only thing you have to do all day is sit in front of the computer, it doesn’t matter how good your posture is and how ergonomic your layout is. The solution: Do more (and different) stuff. You gotta find things you actually like doing. Don’t go for a walk for the sake of going for a walk, go for a walk to take pictures, or to get fresh bread every other day, or to go check out a cool new music shop or something.

Do not drink after a hard day. Alcohol is more taxing on your body than most people really know. This is one of those things that everybody knows intellectually, but not actually. If you want to see how taxing it really is, do a strenuous workout and lift some weights for an hour and a half, and then have a few drinks that night. You don’t even have to get drunk – just drink as much as you’d drink socially. You’re going to wake up feeling like your body has been hit by a truck the next day, and it’s going to take you a few days to fully recover – compared to if you didn’t drink, you’d probably have recovered the next day from your workout. The solution: Don’t be an alcy-holic. Find another way to relax.

When in doubt, walk somewhere, or take a shower. If you’ve having hand problems right now, and you can’t think of anything to do to give your hands a break, go walk somewhere or take a shower. Both keep your hands down low below your heart (good blood flow), keep your hands/arms loose and swinging, and generally you don’t hold your hands in funny bent positions when you’re walking somewhere. A shower has the added benefit of heat and relaxation. A lot of repetitive stress injuries can be very psychological – you become a hypochondriac without even knowing it, and your body manifests what your mind things is happening to it.

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