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When the computer doesn’t love you back (some notes on RSI and taking care of yourself)

This week, I’m tackling a non-technical topic, but relevant for technical people.

Something I see over and over in RSI (repetitive stress injury) circles is the “if you have pain, RUN don’t walk to someone who can help you” speech. And quite frankly, if you’re like me, you ignore it until you can’t. So for that sake, I share the “Or else” thread that’s shared on RSIRescue. There are great places to find information about RSI as related to computing, but what I actually want to get to are the various things I’ve tried, in order from most effective to least; that’s something I see less often. So if you’ve been thinking about dealing with (or preventing! prevent!) RSI injuries, this is my run down.

Alexander Technique

Alexander Technique is a practice of unlearning your “bad” habits and moving through the world without working so hard at it. It’s really hard to explain and very easy to try for yourself by going to a class or taking a private lesson. I’m a complete kool-aid drinker about AT, and think it’s my long-term solution to moving in a more holistic way to prevent injury. In Philadelphia, I recommend Ariel Weiss. This solution for me is less about getting rid of the flare-up right now than about mitigating future ones.

Not Working so Much

I’m on record as being an enthusiastic supporter of this. If computing hurts you, the most direct route (although not desirable) is to not compute, or compute less. As computing is how I make my living, that means less recreational computing, much to my own dismay. It sucks, but it works.


I <3 my acupuncturist. Laura will always be someone I think of when I’m dealing with this stuff, because acupuncture treats you as a whole person (emotionally and physically). It also doesn’t hurt that she was the one who helped me when I woke up one morning and couldn’t feel my hands.


Just yesterday I talked to my mom about getting her a massage and she said, I kid you not, “I tried it once, and I didn’t like it.” ??!!!!?????

I’ve somehow been lucky enough to have a few friends who are massage therapists (none in Philly, *tear*) who are AHMAZING (check out Jean in DC!) and I had a realization just the other day how much I trust massage therapists. They go through intensive training and they understand your body very well because they’re putting their hands on it. Physical therapy can also leverage massage, but if you have trouble convincing yourself to go to physical therapy, it might be easier to convince yourself to go get a biweekly massage to reduce the risk of a flare-up.

Personal Training

Tricky, because personal trainers actually have very few requirements in terms of education, so at your own risk*. However, if you’re dealing with RSI, I’ve had a PT straight up tell me “we can have 1000 sessions together, but if you don’t work on getting stronger, you’re just going to keep coming back here.” I took her advice to heart and try and keep up with strength training. Plus, personal trainers are cheaper than personal therapy. Go to physical therapy first if you’re dealing with RSI for the first time, but personal training can be a nice thing to keep around/jump into every so often.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is great, but I feel like most of the time when I go to them, they appear to want to keep you in treatment forever, just giving you more exercises with rubber bands or whathaveyou. They’re great, extensively trained and totally your first target (I’d say even over an MD) when you suspect you’re dealing with RSI. They are however, expensive, and I can convince myself to get a bi/weekly massage or work out with a personal trainer much easier than deciding to shell out to work with rubber bands.

Voice solutions

Alas, voice coding is a really tough thing to figure out (if you’re interested in me writing about my minor adventures, please comment and let me know). However, Dragon is worth the money for writing. And I’m writing a lot these days.

Chiropractic (hahahahaha)

Totally worthless to me. He poked me like 3 times, charged me $120, and I have completely lost faith in chiropractors, not that I had much to begin with.

At work, I’ve made my desk into a standing desk, use a super ergo space keyboard, use a mouse with my left hand rather than right, and I still get flare-ups and pain, the latest of which is tennis elbow (mouse elbow). I get this because I’ve been intensively, and I’ll also use the word aggressively, computing since my early teens. I’m a smaller person (5’2″), and female, meaning my bones are in general smaller, meaning I’m also at a much higher risk for carpal tunnel than a man.

I reiterate what I mentioned earlier and what others mention about RSI — if you think you might be having a problem, you probably do, and you must initiate change to do something about it. Change breeds change, and you can’t work like you have previously when you’re injured.


* Note, I put a lot of weight on training. Alexander Technique teachers train for at least 3 years, and my teacher has been teaching as long as I’ve been alive. Personal training certification is easy to get and low in training, which is why I consider it risky. They can give you bad kinesthetic advice (like “hold your shoulders back!”) because they don’t know any better.

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