Don’t push through the pain

3 minute read

A little over 4 years ago I was diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (RSI). Like many in my profession, this can feel like a death sentence. I mean, how are we going to continue doing what we love if doing what we love brings us pain. I’m not talking about the kind of pain a professional athlete feels after a hard game. I’m talking about searing, unrelenting pain. I’m talking about feeling like someone is attempting to forcefully remove your hand from your arm by pulling it off. Your fingers tingle when you type or tap your smartphone (you know that feeling you get when your leg or arm “falls sleep” because you sat or slept wrong? Yeah that, but never going away). Some even lose functionality (I can’t scramble eggs when I make omlets for my kids. My wife has to do it for me). And while the pain is worse while you are trying to code, it doesn’t just go away when you stop. It’s there when you sleep. It’s with you always.

There are things you can do to cope (build in more breaks in your day to allow your body to rest/recover from the damage you are continuing to inflict, change your keyboard and/or mouse to more ergonomic ones, switch hands that you use your mouse with). However, all of these are things that break your focus, slow you down, or just make you less productive. Or worse, they just transfer the pain to somewhere else.

Of course, there is also the surgery route. I can provide you some stats on the success rate of surgery along with stats on the odds of reoccurrence even after surgery. None of that matters since the biggest factor is the length of recovery from the surgery – usually measured in months. I don’t know about you, but not being able to use my hand(s) to code for more than a week scares me. Months seems unfathomable.

There are middle grounds of course. This is where I have tried to stay. I take medication (Naproxen) pretty much daily. It doesn’t remove the pain, it only dulls it. I’ve learned to listen to my body better and can tell when I’m about to have a flair-up so I can walk away from the computer for a day or two and reduce my usage of that wrist as much as possible. This isn’t ideal. I’m still in daily pain and at least a couple of flair-ups a year. I can’t remember the last pain free day I had.

Currently I’m trying a course of pregnizone (steroids) to try for even a breif reprieve from the pain (I’ve read it can be something like 2 months). The downside as of right now is more pain since I can’t take the Naproxen due to increased risk of GSI bleeds. At the time of this writing it’s a weekend, so I am planning to contact my doctor on Monday to see what can be done to help. Painkillers don’t work since the pain isn’t muscular, it’s caused by inflammation (that’s why the Naproxen works. It’s an NSAID which targets inflammation and reduces it).

If the steroids don’t work, my next option is a cortisone shot. If you know me, you know I’m not a fan of needles. If you’ve never had a cortisone shot, I’m told they are not pleasant. While this woud most likely lead to a longer period of being pain free, it’s what my doctor refers to as a “band aid” treatment. It’s not a cure.

In addition to the steroids, I’m also being referred to a physical therapist. This is where I’m hoping for relief from the most. Learning stretches and exercises that can help strengthen my wrists as well as back and neck (carpal tunnel isn’t just about your wrists. Your back and neck can contribute to your issues).

All of the above is an abreviated version of where I am now. And where you should do your best to avoid. Pain is your body’s way of saying “whatever you are doing, stop. It’s not good”. Listen to it. Don’t push through the pain. You aren’t weight lifting. In this situation, no pain IS a gain.