The Hand Problem: 3 Years Later and the Effects of Stress on Healing

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three years since I really buggered up my right hand. I have a chronic condition called Ulnar nerve impingement. Essentially, it means that somewhere along Ulnar nerve (see picture), there is something that is putting pressure on it. The Ulnar nerve is the only nerve in the body that is unprotected by muscular-skeletal infrastructure.

I just happen to have one that is shorter than most people, so all it takes is a little pressure to aggravate things. Typically, it presents as aching, numbness, or tingling in the ring and little finger as well as the back part of the wrist and the “funny bone” in the elbow. I had an MRI and found that there is a little bit of compression in the Cubital Tunnel, which is that little notch on the inside part of the elbow (i.e. toward your body). But overall, I have found that the biggest culprit is inflammation anywhere along the path.

I initially traumatized it via strenuous outdoor work. First, several years ago when I split a cord of maple, then five years ago when I pulled out shrubs to make way for building a new deck. And finally, three years ago when I pressure-washed and stained our new deck. The first two times, I recovered somewhat quickly. The last time, it took over a year to recover from the worst of the symptoms. I had to take a six-month leave from work and eventually was terminated (by mutual agreement).

I am happy to say that, most days, I live symptom free. Ironically, the hand is acting up today, possibly because I’m thinking about it, or because I spent most of yesterday doing computer consulting.

I have always wondered why it took so long to recover the third time. Without any other information, I assumed it was because I had a pretty intense project at work that required putting in long hours on the computer for several weeks right after the injury. The best therapy for this type of condition is rest, and I didn’t get any.

But the more I learn about the brain and the body, I realize there is more to this story. Not only did my project require long hours, but I was under the gun. So, it was both long hours and high stress. By this point, I was miserable in my job, doing work I didn’t like for a micromanaging boss that–how do I put this nicely–was indifferent about how to best utilize my creative strengths–in other words, I was a cog in the machine. If I don’t have at least some creative freedom in my work, I wither.

When the body encounters stress, a hormone called cortisol is released. A little is okay. But chronic stress leaves cortisol levels elevated and  causes, among other things, lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing, decreased bone density, and decrease in muscle tissue. The “inflammatory response” gets stuck.

It’s clear to me now why it took so long for me to heal. I was a stressed out mess!! That’s why rest was the best medicine along with therapies to address the inflammation.

Here are some articles you can read to learn more about the effects of chronic cortisol: 

If you are developing chronic Ulnar nerve issues, the very best advice I can give you is do whatever you can to reduce your stress. If you are in a high-pressure job like I was, especially if it also involves a lot of repetitive motion, stop immediately! Use all your sick time or take a vacation. You need to unplug and let your body decompress so it can start the healing process. And be sure to take whatever supplements are helpful for healing and reducing inflammation.

You can read my other blog posts about my journey here:


1 Comment

Filed under Health

One response to “The Hand Problem: 3 Years Later and the Effects of Stress on Healing

  1. thanks for the great links, and thanks for sharing more of your background. great to see how your music is thriving, despite this.

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