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How I Cured My RSI & Back Pain

Photo by Burst on Unsplash

I considered changing careers because of years of wrist pain. Now I'm pain-free after learning about the mindbody connection.

Part of the reason I don't blog as much as I used to is not that I don't have much to say, but rather it hurts too bad to say (type) it. I've been suffering with RSI or Carpal Tunnel off & on for over 10 years. I've visited doctors, bought all kinds of ergonomic helpers (keyboards, trackpads, doctor stools, GeekDesks, wrist braces, pads, etc.) The effectiveness of each has been debatable. At first I think it helps, then its effectiveness wears off as time goes on.

It used to be that when it would flare up I'd start taking 800mg of Ibuprofen 2-3 times per day so I could continue working. A couple of months ago my whole body started swelling up as I think the Ibuprofen combined with my Gleevec (chemo pills) were taking their toll on my kidneys. I stopped taking Ibuprofen figuring that dealing with the pain & swelling in my wrists was better than knocking out my kidneys.

Two weeks ago I went to the doctor's office on a Saturday afternoon. I was wearing wrist braces on both hands because they had become so sore and swollen I could barely do anything without pain. I was icing my wrists every night before bed. But this isn't what I was there for. I had been sick and my asthma was acting up. After doing an albuterol nebulizer treatment and chest x-rays, I left the doctor's office and picked up prescriptions for antibiotics (pneumonia), albuterol (asthma), and prednisone (steroid for asthma). I started taking 40 mg of prednisone each day for a week.

I was surprised that as I started taking prednisone, the swelling and pain went away in my wrists. I asked my brother who is a doctor if prednisone helps RSI. He said it certainly would, but it's a short term solution and you definitely don't want to keep taking it.

After my week of prednisone the pain and swelling immediately came back in my wrists. I can't tell you how frustrating that was. On Monday when I went into work, I was determined to schedule an appointment with someone - anyone who could possibly help me. I was past traditional medicine. I was now going looking for alternative treatment - something I have never done before. I was looking at chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, etc. I spend the whole morning browsing around trying to decide which one to try first.

In the progress of researching I came across this post by Aaron Iba title How I Cured my RSI Pain. His whole story resonated with me. But when I got to the part where he started describing how he finally cured his RSI I was quite confused and a little skeptical. His cure - he read a book! What, that's crazy and impossible, right?

Well, you get to a point where you decide anything is possible. I turned my attention to Dr. John E. Sarno to learn more about this. I was surprised that there were so many people singing his praises. There must be something to this.

I watched two videos on YouTube (inserted below) and decided I was jumping in with both feet. I bought the book Aaron mentioned in his blog, The Mindbody Prescription - well, I actually bought the audio book with my Audible account.

I've listened to the audio book and this morning I bought another one of his books - Healing Back Pain, which I just started listening to this morning. Those who follow my blog know about my herniated disc experience that I blogged about. To digress slightly I want to say that my back has been feeling great. I did physical therapy and after about 3 months the numbness in my leg and foot went away and I haven't really had any pain since then. When it happened I really worried I would never be normal again, especially since the specialists all told me they would be surprised if I didn't need surgery. Well, I didn't need surgery. It turns out herniated discs can heal. I even played in a softball tournament this summer and it didn't bother me at all.

It is now Friday, just four days since reading Aaron's blog post. I have removed all my ergonomic crutches. I have been typing away like crazy and ignoring the pain - which was really hard at first. The first two days I still had to wear a wrist brace on my right hand so I could work faster and ignore the pain better. I have since put my braces and everything else in a drawer - out of sight. The swelling has gone down, my range of motion has increased and the pain is about 60% gone from where it was. Considering where it was, that is HUGE for me!

So I'm writing this post for a few reasons:

  1. Because I can! It doesn't hurt to do so.
  2. To document a starting point. It has only been four days, but I totally anticipate being 100% pain-free at some point in the future. I don't want to put a time limit on it.
  3. To share with others who might be going through RSI or carpal tunnel issues.

The confusing point is with this "cure" there is no real defined solution. I'm sure this post is confusing to someone looking for the cure. Basically it is the knowledge that your brain is triggering this problem and you need to convince your subconscious that you're not going to let this happen anymore. It is the knowledge that becomes the power of the cure. I know it totally sounds crazy, but it's crazy to me that I sweat and blush when I get nervous in front a crowd. Yes, my brain can control my body and I'm telling my subconscious brain to chillax on my wrists already.

It is working.

UPDATE 2013-01-11

It's been over 3 months and so I thought I should post an update. It took a couple of weeks, but since then I have been pain-free. There have been some minor pain in my wrists at full extension on occasion, but they generally go away. An odd phenomenon did occur. After my wrist pain went away, my lower back starting hurting. In Mindbody Prescription, Dr. Sarno warns you that the pain will likely move to a new location as your brain realizes its pain defense mechanism isn't going to work on this particular body part anymore. I just applied the same principles - generally laying down and meditating on what could be bothering me emotionally and telling my brain to send oxygenated blood to the sore part of my body. After the pain left my lower back my wrists started to act up but the pain went away quickly, then it moved to my upper back and made things difficult for about a week and a half. The same principles applied.

I told my boss about this book. She read it and applied it to her migraines she would experience about 2-3 times per week. At our next 1 on 1 she said she was 30 days without a migraine! She also gave me some tips that she had learned in the past from a therapist. We discussed some emotional triggers from my teenage years. After that meeting my upper back pain went away and I haven't had any issues since.

Now I try to share this information with everyone I can. I get some strange looks sometimes, but I'm just trying to help.  I think the people who are willing to try it first are those who have tried everything else and are desperate for some pain relief.

UPDATE 2014-04-18

I thought I'd share a few more updates. This update mainly addresses back pain. I haven't had any RSI pain in the past year. I mentioned earlier that my back healed and I was playing softball and basketball. I happened to re-herniate my disk on a "pioneer trek" where I helped you push heavy handcarts up steep hills, hiking 8 hours a day for 3 days and sleeping on a sagebrush. By the third day I woke up and couldn't move my back. I continued to walk all that day and by the end of that day I was in excruciating pain and I was losing feeling in my left leg.

I went through all the physical therapy and exercising as I did the first time. It has been 10 months now and while the back pain has gone away, I still don't have feeling in the anterior of my left leg and foot. It feels like I constantly have Novocain injected in my leg. I lost strength in that leg as well. I couldn't lift my body on my left calf for about 5 months. I am regaining the strength now, but I still don't have feeling back.

The good news I want to emphasize is that I'm not in pain! This really surprised my back surgeon. He is about 80 years old (at least it seems it to me) so he has seen a lot of backs. He was shocked based on my MRI that my pain went away. He thought I would for sure need a microdiscectomy after my MRI. But after 90 days and being pain-free he said that the surgery may or may not help the nerve damage, but he didn't recommend it if I wasn't in pain.

So I know I have real physical damage in my back. But that doesn't mean I have to live with constant pain.

One other resource I found was a book by Scott Brady title "Pain Free For Life". Dr. Brady found pain relief through Dr. Sarno's methods and then developed techniques to help his patients recover from chronic pain. I wish there were an audiobook for this one.

One last thing... I noticed an interesting side effect from on this mind-body magic. I was not sick one day in all of 2013. My wife and four kids got sick a number of times but I never caught it. I'm used to getting sick at least once or twice a year. But while I was focusing on these mind-body techniques I surprisingly never got sick. Coincidence? Maybe.

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Dustin Davis

Dustin Davis is a software engineer, people manager, hacker, and entreprenuer. He loves to develop systems and automation. He lives with his wife and five kids in Utah.

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