Braced Up

I have chronic off-and-on pain in my left wrist going into my thumb. It is too high on the outside of my wrist and not on the inside of my wrist at all so it isn’t carpal tunnel syndrome. At the ER, when I went last year because it hurt so bad I thought I just had to have a major problem, they called it de Quervain’s Tendonitis. They sent me to an Ortho that diagnosed me with De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis. When I go to my regular doctor, he calls it de Quervain’s Tendinosis. I assume those terms are interchangeable and all mean “wrist pain on the thumb side of the hand” and treatment is the same. I hope at least.

I developed this condition due to how I work. This is not a workplace injury though. Just a case of what I was doing at work exacerbating something that was already brewing. I am right handed but in many ways, my left hand is much stronger. I use it to grip things while my right hand gets the variety of  twisting and bending. While at work, from October through January last year, I worked on a large variety of small parts. For some, I simply checked the outside diameter of the part with a ring gauge. For others, I was polishing surface chrome. And for a while, I was twisting a thread gauge into threads to make sure they were the right size. All of these required very different motions. I made sure to take breaks and flex my right hand often. After all, it did all the twisting and rubbing and moving. My left hand just held the parts in a sort of pinching grasp. But I did that for 4 months straight, never taking the time to think about my left hand. I did this to myself.

Early January 2016, my left wrist starting hurting. Odd. I adjusted what I was doing so I wasn’t using my left wrist as much. The pain eased up. Until it didn’t ease up anymore. By mid-January I was convinced something was very wrong. I went to the ER because I just knew I fractured my wrist. I had fallen the weekend before and hit my wrist and the pain came back with prejudice. They gave me a brace and referred me to the Ortho. The Ortho said my fall had nothing to do with it and that this is a “repetitive-motion injury” that I’ve developed over time. He gave me a cortisone shot and told me to wear the brace 24/7 for 2 weeks. I did as I was told and hated every second of it. After 2 weeks, Ortho declared me healed and told me to wear the brace when it starts hurting and come back if it gets bad enough that a few days of the brace doesn’t help.

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My takeaway from that was that this condition is life-long. Great. It comes and goes, usually during the rare times I have to work on parts. I don’t do that often anymore, partially due to quality issues going down (yay) and partially due to me having my own staff to do this stuff now (even bigger yay). But sometimes I still have to jump in with parts and then my wrist hurts a lot. I’ve wore this brace for 3-7 days at a time probably 10 times this year since the original 2 weeks.

I haven’t worked on parts in a couple months. But my wrist is hurting. Really bad actually. It started a couple days ago and hasn’t stopped. I’m taking Ibuprofen and using ice/heat. I’ve started wearing the brace to bed in case I’m sleeping on it in a weird angle. That didn’t do much either. So now I’m back to wearing it almost 24/7 again. I take it off to go to the bathroom, while I shower, and when I’m driving. I just have to be mindful of using my left hand during those times. Which means that other activities are a huge pain in the butt. I struggle to type, to brush my hair, to carry anything. The animals are terrified of this brace and won’t let me pet them if I have it on. Very annoying. But I’m going to deal with it because the alternative sounds worse…

Further treatment beyond a brace includes physical therapy which I don’t have time/patience to do and surgery which scares the hell out of me. PT is 12 weeks of targeted exercises that the Ortho admitted will probably just make it worse. But it will be required by my insurance if surgery looks possible. Surgery would most likely fix the issue entirely by opening up the channel the tendons go through and prevent the rubbing with a potential 3-4 month healing window that requires seeing regular PT and occupational therapists to regain range of motion. I’d rather not. So I’m in the brace for the foreseeable future. 😦

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