For quite a while I was fighting Repetitive strain injury (RSI) caused by my crazy amount of typing every day. When I did the marathon for my bachelor’s thesis, 15 hours a day, 15 days in a row (read more about it in this blog post), my right index finger had grown twice its size.
For some reason I took a picture of that… enjoy:
Ergo, my right index finger’s joint (“metacarpophalangeal”) clearly doesn’t look right, and that even in comparison to my also swollen left index finger. On top of that I was experiencing pain way up into my shoulder, accompanied by heavy neck tension.
This blog post is about my experience with fixing this condition.
Luckily, I knew about RSI before I got it, thanks to a talk that I once had watched on youtube 7. Which made me try many many things and habbits early, habbits that still stick until today: I use a vertical mouse 8, work at a standing desk every now and then (and other ergonomic fixes), stretch my arms and wrists before Parkour training at least once a week and used to avoid arm-heavy excercises like the planche. I consulted a doctor and a physiotherapist, personal trainer and countless websites. I also tried self-massage and using a blackroll/foam roller 9, which is meant to help release or loosen up your fascia. I even started coding a VR editor to use full-arm gestures and voice recognition to not only fix the cause of the problem (the typing), but also be more efficient than I would with keyboard and mouse. I did not get very far with that, though.
My mindset back at the time drifted into “I’m stuck with this and there is nothing I can do.”, until a dear friend of mine got me out of that.
Karoline Renner 10, who treats these kinds of issues for musicians 12, listened to me complaining about RSI a couple of times and made it very clear that this is not an untreatible condition. Instead, there is one very important fact that she tought me: tendons are stressable for around 30-40 minutes, no longer and this is not trainable. “What!” I probably shouted in dismay, when I heared this for the first time.
But here’s the positive: the tendons only need 5 minutes to be stressable for another 30-40 minutes. To help with this, I highly recommend stretchly 11—an app for Windows, Linux and Mac, that reminds you to take breaks.
Additionally, the RSI was heavily boosted by my neck tensions. Karoline tought me how to sit at the desk in an ergonomical and sustainable way. While I already knew the basics, it was enlightening to have someone correct my posture, which still had a long way to go. Especially noteworthy was that the height my screens were at was surprisingly insufficient and made me look downward, putting a lot of stress on my back neck muscles.
Apart from that, Contemporary dancing improved my flexibility and made me stretch regularly, also helping to release a lot of neck tension.
“Health first” is one of my most important principles when it comes to work. I love work and to “Where is your work-life balance?” I respond “Work is life. Perfect balance.” But work is not fun if every keystroke makes you think about how long you’ll be able to continue until the pain reaches a level at which you can no longer work.
If you have RSI, understand that you can very likely treat it without operation, but not without taking breaks. “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting a different result”, you cannot expect to continue the work habbits that started the RSI and still get rid of the RSI. Treat the cause, not the symptoms.