Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Evil Culprit of Technologies: Overuse Syndrome

Over-Use Syndrome, Tendinitis, Tennis Elbow, Carpal Tunnel.

All of these things entail one thing; Your tendons are swollen and typing or mousing is the most painful experience in the world! Have you experienced this? It usually starts with your fingers or wrists becoming fatigued and sore, your hands get cold and possibly even numb sometimes.

Being diagnosed with any of these can be catastrophic for anyone who spends a significant amount of time on the computer, lifting boxes or heavy objects, cooking or anything that requires strength and force from your lower arms.

As a musician, it can ruin a career. In fact, it did (yours truly), it has to many and it will to many more. For office workers, it creates a challenge just to get through that one email that needs to be sent out.

When I first was told I had tendinitis, I figured it only applied to painting walls. I was so wrong. Once my senior year of college started, it came back ten times worse. My busy schedule of writing papers, taking notes and most important; preparing my Senior Recital came to a stop. I struggled not only with this terrible condition but I also suffered the worst cold in my life; it came back 4 times. I was left in bed for days and my work piled up. 'Catching Up' required coaxing my friends into typing my papers as I told them what to type, I struggled with my Clarinet Professor to convince him that practicing at rehearsal and for my recital was impossible. I tried and tried and tried for 5 weeks to manage my life. I began to think that I wouldn't be able to graduate.

I had to sacrifice so much; blogging, carrying my books to school (even on the shoulder; everything made it worse), lifting weights, I even had to drop out of the several performance groups I was in. I felt betrayed by my professors and peers. No one believed I actually had this much pain in so much of my daily activities. I kept pushing myself, I didn't want to stay in college another year and I certainly didn't want to let anyone down, especially myself.

I did go to the Doctor several times. Each time they told me to rest my arms and take advil to keep the swelling down. So I tried as much as possible. It didn't work.

In the end (which isn't the end), I did graduate but not before I ruined my reputation for being a hard working, talented musician.

Since leaving College in May 2007, I've seen a physical therapist for 10 months, A specialist for 4 months, I've had EMG's and MRI's done, I've seen an Orthopedic Dr., had cortisone shots and have spend countless hours in pain and hopelessness on overcoming this. Although I have made significant progress; at work I no longer need breaks from the computer, I can do minimal weight lifting and can practice my clarinet an hour a week (in College I would play an average of 6 hours a day!), I still can't beat this condition.

Managing the pain and swelling finally became possible last summer when I started seeing a Chiropractor and a Massage Therapist. Since then I have built strength and I fully believe I can overcome this.
It's been 2.5 years since this started. I have sacrificed a career in music, my confidence has faltered and simple things like opening a jar of pickles was impossible at one point in my adult life.

No one should have to go through this, yet so few people are aware of the symptoms and warning signs to the onset of this condition. And they certainly don't know how to avoid developing any one of the conditions listed above either. So here is some advice for those willing to take it;

Take breaks from your computer; for every 45 minutes take at least 5 minutes away.
Lift Weights on a regular basis. Keep your shoulders, upper and lower arms strong.
Use a stress ball to strengthen your fingers and hands.
Keep great posture; pull your shoulders back, keep your neck straight (not hunched) and keep your wrists straight when your at the computer; if they are bent it causes stress on the tendons.
Stretch your arms, shoulders and wrists. Its ok if it feels stiff, just do it everyday.
If you start to feel tired or sore, take a few moments and do something else, like a short walk. Don't work through the pain, even if you take advil.

I can't guarantee that following these recommendations will completely take the risk out for developing a condition, but it will certainly help. Our bodies weren't made to sit at a computer all day and we certainly weren't made for typing the way we do. Keep yourself healthy and your work will continue to get done without the added stress of pain in your hands, wrist or arms.

Like I said, it completely changed my life. At one point I thought my life would be miserable forever. But I have persevered, and will continue to do so until its gone.

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