How I solved RSI Repetitive Strain Injury

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Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. This is not medical advice. This is just me sharing my experience of what worked for me. It might not work for you.

A few years back I went through a miserable period.

My arms, my hands, were a constant source of pain.

I was a computer engineer, typing in a keyboard to make a living, and I was terrified this was the end of my career.

I tried it all. New mouse, new keyboard, fixing the posture, new chair.. nothing worked.

The pain was so bad it didn’t even stop during the night. Even driving was a pain.

I had RSI. Repetitive Strain Injury.

I decided to cut back on typing. I wrapped up the contract with a company I was working for. I decided to do other things for a while, anything else than typing.

At some point I was 100% convinced I’d live forever with the pain.

Fast forward to today, and I make my living through writing. I published 14 ebooks in 2 years, I wrote 1 blog post every day for 3 years. I make courses that are in text format and I tweet dumb things every day.

How did I solve the problem?

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. This is what worked for me. It might not work for you. Or it might.

The answer is in our mind and I literally solved RSI in 10 seconds. After months and months of pain. Just one minute. I just had an epiphany moment.

This is the “secret” I discovered: your brain is causing the pain to the arm to stop you doing what you’re doing. You get RSI then you start worrying you have RSI and the thing gets worse.

Instead, you say to yourself “I know what you’re doing. Now I know the trick. I don’t have RSI. I just found out you want to trick me believing I have RSI! I’m not a fool”.

The moment you say so aloud, the pain will go away. Any time you feel pain, think about this. It will gradually just disappear.

I’m an engineer and if you’re like me, you’ll think “I don’t believe this, it’s just bullshit”.

Also, don’t feel the need to email me if you disagree

But it’s true. Your arms and hands have nothing wrong. Your nerves are ok. Your pain won’t be permanent.

The pain is some sort of side effect of your internal emotions. It might be the thing you are working on is frustrating, useless, or too hard.

You rationalize this with any excuse or obligation but your mind will use tricks under the hood. A little hack. Because you are using your hands to do this work, the mind will cause pain to your hands to stop you from doing your work.

The same principle is applied to many other parts of the body. For us programmers or any profession that involves a computer, it’s very common to get this arms/hands problem.

I think this might happen more frequently to people with psychosomatic issues (like panic attacks or anxiety) in the past.

There is a whole book on this topic. If you have RSI, buy it now, it will cost much less than the next piece of ergonomic equipment you want to buy. It’s called “The Mindbody Prescription” by John E. Sarno. I think this is the place where I read about it:

This book totally saved my computer programming career. No joke.

People tend to laugh about this, in disbelief. I was listening to the Indie Hackers podcast where the host laughed about this idea that RSI can be psychosomatic.

I get it. It sounds pseudoscience to the analytical person that’s trained to only believe in equations and formulas. Left brain.

You don’t have to believe me. I did a quick search on Twitter / HN to find some other opinions from random people on the Internet:

  • I have several friends who suddenly stopped having RSI after changing jobs. No fancy keyboard required
  • I know this will sound like utter nonsense, but I read this book that cured my RSI after 10 years
  • “The Mindbody Prescription” by John Sarno. Only thing that cured my debilitating RSI after years and years of trying everything else and starting to think I’d have to give up working at computers for life. Been RSI pain-free for over 5 years now.
  • I tried rest, it didn’t work. I tried everything, it didn’t work. The only thing that worked, after two years of suffering, was reading Dr. John Sarno’s book The Mindbody Prescription. It seemed kooky, but try searching for it on Hacker News and read the testimonials.
  • Another Sarno cure checking in. I had debilitating “RSI” for two years. Read The Mindbody Connection by Sarno and within just a few days I was feeling much better. Within a couple of weeks I was virtually back to normal. It’s been almost two years now since my recovery and I am doing great. I would highly recommend Dr. Sarno’s books to anyone with “RSI”.
  • I am another Dr Sarno advocate. I had been out of my startup for two months, in utter despair. I happened to bump into a friend who recommended the book and free online course. It changed my life.
  • Sarno’s program completely cured my RSI. My highly-regarded surgeon was ready to operate for cubital tunnel, which had been getting progressively worse for about 2 years. I was to the point that I would feel pain all the time while typing, and had some tingling/numbness. I was concerned about surgery, so I decided to try some alternatives first, and the stuff from Sarno was amazing. It was scary as hell to just tell myself that the pain wasn’t real, and that I wasn’t hurting myself, but I figured it was worth a shot. It’s been 10 years since then. I now have zero problems, no special exercises, no ergonomic keyboards, chairs, desks, etc. I also regularly play ARPGs like Diablo 3 and Path of Exile, which make most people with RSI cringe. I agree that Sarno’s framework is not perfect. I’m not sure I buy his explanations as to why it works, but it does work. The key is that there is a huge mental component to RSI (or, at least, to some cases of RSI) that most people don’t acknowledge. The monitoring/worrying about damaging yourself does something to those muscles/tendons that builds up over time.
  • I used Sarno’s book to cure myself back in 2002 and this approach has been successful ever since. Occasionally I will have some issue (though rarely wrist pain), and I can make it go away quickly by addressing the psychological root cause. I highly recommend reading his book “The Mindbody Prescription”
  • I had very painful RSI for 4 years which was hampering my career and preventing me from playing any video games for more than 15 minutes at a time. It went away within a week of reading “The Mindbody Prescription.” … not that playing video games has been good for my career…
  • Found out it was psychosomatic. My belief that my pain was caused by structutal damage reinforced the pain. The cause of the pain seemed to rather be a combination of stress, fear, and supressed emotions. When I started working on these areas the pain resolved. It comes back now and then but now I know it’s my mind messing with me so I just resolve what’s stressing me at the moment and just keep using my hands and then it goes away. I dealt with this shit for years and it severely restricted my life so it’s kind of a miracle to be rid of it.

Update: Josh W. Comeau also wrote about this topic, and how he found a similar solution, in this Twitter thread:

This post is not to say ergonomic equipment and posture does not matter. It’s always worth getting comfortable devices when working all day long on them, and good posture will just prevent a lot of issues.

And you might actually have a physical problem, so as I said I’m not a doctor, this is no medical advice and I’m just sharing the story of what worked for me. It might not work for you, or maybe it might.