February 29: International RSI Day

February 29th is an unusual day for everyone, since it comes just once every 4 years.  However, to people who suffer from repetitive strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, thoriac outlet syndrome, rotator cuff injuries among others, this day is special. It's the only day on the calendar which is non- repetitive, and it's also International RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) Day.  It is a day to remember those of us who suffer from disorders caused by doing the same motions repeatedly that affect our muscles, nerves and tendons.

As someone who has had carpal tunnel syndrome since l998, I am luckier than most, since I became injured late in life.  When I first started my career, there were devices called typewriters, and office workers such as myself put pen to paper. When I got my college degrees, a computer was literally as big as a house, and we used to have punch cards that we took to computer centers.  There was no such thing as a PC, and Steve Jobs’ garage was only used for cars.

However, as my work changed with the introduction of PCs, my colleagues and I, who used to have clerical employees to do work for us, became our own clericals.  Instead of moving paper up and down through our typewriters, we typed continuously on our PCs, which also monitored our work.

Many people like me worked as hard and as long as possible, not realizing that while our work output may be good, our health was at risk.  Like many others, I began to feel hand and wrist pain, which woke me up at night.  When I worked, everything was fine. However, at the end of the day, my hands became numb and I started to drop things and found my hands literally were weak.  My pain was with me constantly, including weekends and holidays.

Therefore, I went to Kaiser after filing for workers compensation.  I was given a nerve conduction EMG test, which felt like I was being electrocuted, without the end result.  I was told that I would hear something in a couple of weeks. However, as soon as I returned to work, I got a call saying that I 'passed the test' and had carpal tunnel syndrome. I was referred to the Webster Orthopedic Clinic in Oakland and Dr. Kendrick Lee, who so far has performed three surgeries for me.

It has not been easy for me.  I literally had to teach myself how to be sick, how to deal with an illness and how to try to use the same skill test that enabled me to work inorder to try to cope with my limitations. Thanks to Dr. Lee, his staff and my wife’s understanding, I have been able to continue to work and have now crossed the barrier from being a disabled employee to senior citizen trainee who rides the bus and BART due to age, not disability.

However, I was lucky.  The computer revolution came late in my life.  There were no such things as tablets or smart phones that people now use regularly.  However, today people much younger than I use computers from an early age, in addition to texting and playing video games.  Some may even come to the work force already injured, suffering from such repetitive strain maladies as Nintdontendinits. 

Therefore, for these young people and other folks, I and other RSI victims who mark this day want to say, please do not ignore your body. Take regular breaks.  Get up from that cubicle or phone and walk around.  You will not be working forever — or perhaps even using that phone, tablet, or PC forever.

However, you may want to do other things in your life forever, such as pick up a bag of groceries, hold a child, grandchild, or significant other, open a door or window, or even unscrew a jar. You may not be able to do any of the things that most people take for granted if you ignore International RSI Day.

So this carpal tunnel syndrome victim encourages everyone to think — this day every day — and do whatever you can to avoid joining us.  If you do not, our economy could suffer, and the only people being gainfully employed may be splint makers and hand therapists.

Find more tips for preventing and dealing with repetitive strain injuries.