What do I need to tell my doctor to prompt any action? Is there anything to be done?

Question: I’m new to the list, so forgive me if I’m asking simple questions. I suppose my first questions are, what have I got? and what should I do? I’m not generally one to spurt out my life story, but I’m in pain, and I have to do something about it if I can. So, here’s my story, kept as concise as I can (you’ll soon learn how verbose I can be!.)

* I’m a musician/music technologist…never performed intensively though.
* Started using computers with mice regularly about 12 years ago.
* 1988 Developed what the doctor called a frozen shoulder, it never really went.
* Pain has been getting steadily worse since then.
* I now have constant pain in my right arm and hand.
* The upper arm aches/shoulder and I keep wanting to put the arm up in the air and stretch it
hard. Lower arm hurts a bit.
* Fingers hurt a lot, they don’t seem swollen, or red/inflamed though my right hand index
finger seems to have rotated *slightly* to the right.
* Fingers stiffen up and ache, and I crack them. Horrible habit, but I just feel I have to!
I haven’t always done this. Can’t remember when I started.
* Left arm has lost mobility – can’t raise it easily through upper arm pain.
* A lesser degree of pain in the left arm/hand.
Other stuff you might need to know:
* I’m 35. Vegetarian. About a stone over weight.
* I don’t take any exercise except walking the dog occasionally.
* I spent 1992-4 driving 144 miles a day just to and from work. I now have a 32 mile each way
* I’m not a typist – 2 fingers + thumb on the left hand and 3 + thumb on the right, which
does most of the work.
* I don’t do loads of typing, but I’m on the computer a lot.
* About 18 months ago I was diagnosed with very high blood pressure. I now take beta
* I spent a very long time suffering from clinical depression without really knowing. I’m now
on prozac and I’m happy for the first time in my adult life!
* Recently told my new doctor about this (she’s generally great) and she just said put my
hands in warm water if I feel I have to crack my fingers. Feels lovely, but I feel like
doing it all the time!

So, what is it? What do I need to tell my doctor to prompt any action? Is there anything to be done?
Any advice …pleeeeease 🙂

Answer 1: I always wonder what doctors mean when they talk about a frozen shoulder. They never seem to have any suggestions about what might have caused it, or what might make it go away. Doesn’t seem to be a lot of help, really.  What you describe sounds to me a lot more like AMT — Adverse Mechanical Tension. Try asking your Dr to refer you for physiotherapy.

The physio will probably work on your back and your neck, to loosen the tethered muscles. It may seem strange that manipulating the spine and neck could relieve the pain in your arms, but believe me, if that’s what your problem is (and I am no doctor), then it does help, quite amazingly.  The pain in the shoulder is almost certainly caused by mousing. When you mouse for long periods you are holding your arm out unsupported, with the fingers curled round and almost immobile. It’s just not a natural position. What helps is different for different people. I swapped the mouse for a small, handheld trackball so that I didn’t have to hold my arm out.

You need to experiment to find out what’s best for you. But mousing can certainly hurt you, and it sounds like it has.  You need to consider your workstation setup in general, and look at the equipment you use, and look at the various alternatives available to try to find something that will not cause you further injury. There are ergonomic keyboards, alternative pointing devices, voice recognition systems — and it’s also important to have the desk at the right position and your screen directly in front of you, not off to an angle.

Lots of information on all these things in the Typing-Injury FAQ at http://www-engr.sjsu.edu/~svei/tifaq/  I haven’t heard of knuckle-cracking in connection with RSI. Maybe someone else has?  Best to use the computer as little as possible for a while, to give your body a chance to get away from the strain.

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