Tag Archives: Ulnar nerve

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:

http://stress.about.com/od/stresshealth/a/cortisol.htm
http://www.holistic-mindbody-healing.com/effects-of-cortisol.html 

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:
https://thiskellycarpenter.wordpress.com/tag/ulnar-nerve/

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Need a Hand?

I do. Like most, I rely on my hands to make a living. So, not only do I need a hand, I need a hand that works. Unfortunately, due to shorter than normal Ulnar nerves that can easily get aggravated, I can become incapacitated like I was yesterday. I was happy and proud to have a highly productive day on Wednesday, getting most of my to-do list done. But somewhere along the way I overdid it and yesterday I paid the price.

The most effective way of recovery for me is rest. Stay off the computer, off the piano, no yard work or any other activity which involves gripping and holding onto something–a rake, a paint brush, a bicycle handlebar, etc.

Beyond that, there are various therapies. One important one I discovered when trying acupuncture (which in itself does not help me) is a Chinese herbal patch. The acupuncturist turned me on to these, and every few months or so, I buy some more from her. It is a naturopathic anti-inflammatory hot/cold treatment and it helps open up the nerve path. When I have a flare up, I cut a patch in half, put on half over the Ulnar nerve path on my wrist (see picture) and the other at the top off my shoulder.

These are distributed by a place called Qualiherb.

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Blogging in 2010

Thank you all for 2010!

WordPress.com just sent me an email reviewing my blog stats for 2010, along with an option to post this information to my blog. I decided, “what the heck?”, so the information is shown below. Thank you all for being a part of my blog community. It is because of you that I have these numbers. I plan to be just as busy on my blog in 2011, if not more so.

Have a terrific 2011 and see you soon!!

Kelly

WordPress Stats

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,900 times in 2010. That’s about 9 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 74 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 54 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 6mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

Featured imageThe busiest day of the year was October 7th with 194 views. The most popular post that day was A dark night… and then a ray of light.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, kellycarpentermusic.com, networkedblogs.com, kelsongs.com, and cyberprmastermind.ning.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for bandcamp vs reverbnation, kelly carpenter blog, reverbnation vs bandcamp, ulnar neuritis, and music success in nine weeks.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

A dark night… and then a ray of light October 2010
6 comments

2

Optimize This! – Music Success in Nine Weeks, Week 3 July 2010
7 comments

3

About My Music May 2010

4

About Me January 2010
1 comment

5

Music Success in Nine Weeks? July 2010
10 comments

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An Attitude of Gratitude

Day after tomorrow we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States. The Canadians get a jump on us every year, of course, since their Thanksgiving holiday is on Columbus Day, which I recall being a school holiday when I was a kid. But that was a long long time ago, and I am so thankful that they have invented electricity since then. Speaking of electricity, ours is working today which we can’t take for granted since the Pacific Northwest was slammed with snow and wind yesterday. Merrilyn and I live in a town called Woodinville which is aptly named. We have no less than 13 tall evergreens in our backyard. Three or so years ago, the snow and wind combo brought down power lines all over our part of the county and we lost power for eight days. We fled to a classic hotel in Canada for a few days. All to say I am very grateful for power, light, heat, hot food.

Not initially intending to do so, I am quite enjoying writing long rambling paragraphs today without any urgency to get to the meat of my blog post. Speaking of meat, Merrilyn just let me know that the bacon is done, so I will take a break and have breakfast. Will be back in a few… Ah… bacon. I am definitely not a vegetarian. Have you ever tried Tofurky? Why do they bother? Perhaps I can convert to being vegetarianish: vegetarian with the occasional red meat? Probably not.

So, getting to the meat… the mind meat, if you will… Hey, “Mind Meat” would be a cool name for a band, don’t you think? Kind of a cross between Simple Minds and Meatloaf. Like an Irish Meatloaf, yet different. Is there such a thing as Irish Meatloaf? So back to the meating of the mind, as it were… I am VERY thankful for so many things.

Irish Meatloaf

Have you ever noticed that there are certain figures of speech that get tacked on to statements that mean absolutely nothing? Such as, “if you will”, “as it were”, “in a manner of speaking”, “in a word”, “as they say”. These are just conversational filler, yet, they make one sound more intellectual and literary, don’t you think? (There’s another one.) I love words and language. I especially love mangling the English language. I suppose if I were a female, I would love womangling the English language, if you don’t mind me saying.

But, I still haven’t “brought” the meat, as they say. What am I thankful for?

Well, first of all, I am so thankful that my dad is still with us. He almost died a few times this past year due to an unsuccessful surgery in March leading to septic shock and subsequent infections. And to top it all off, he just suffered a Transient Ischemic Attack, also known as a “mini-stroke”. He has mostly recovered and his mind is all there.

Then there is the issue of my hand problems. Last year at this time, I wasn’t sure whether or not I would need to undergo surgery for my hand condition (Ulnar Neuritus). I decided that the surgery was too risky, and in the past year, the symptoms have mostly abated, but not before I wound up losing my job in March. Yet I am deeply grateful because now I am doing what I truly love, music, and although this comes with a fair amount of financial anxiety, I know I am on the right track.

I continue to be thankful for my song “Draw Me Close” that I wrote 16 years ago. It was one of those songs that songwriters talk about that just “came out” almost fully formed. Even to this day, I still hear from people about how that song has touched them. And I am thankful for the royalties I still earn that has given us enough of a cushion for me to pursue a music career.

I am thankful for winning the Music Success in Nine Weeks blog challenge. Who wudda thunk it? That was a shocker, not because I didn’t feel I deserved to win–I worked hard for it, “running to get the prize”, if you will–but to be honest, I assumed that someone younger would get the nod. I am, after all, in my fifties, and in my so-called conventional wisdom, I figured that someone who had a lot more life in front of them… bla bla bla. Now that’s just silly thinking, isn’t it?

So many other things… I am thankful for my wife, Merrilyn, for her encouragement and support of my new career. I am thankful that on November 6th it has been 30 years since our first kiss. Wow! I am thankful that she got a new job–she now teaches in a “self-contained” autism program, and she loves it. I am thankful for my new great-niece, Rebekah, who is just as cute as a bug’s ear. (Now where did that expression come from?)

Wow. I have a good life. I am truly grateful!

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Ulnar Neuritus, My Story

Since I have been recently having problems again with my hand, I decided to write a post about my condition in the hopes that it may help others who have suffered with similar issues.

What Is Ulnar Neuritus?

To quote the FreeMD website: “A person with ulnar neuritis has inflammation of the ulnar nerve in the arm, which results in hand numbness or hand weakness. Ulnar neuritis is usually caused by activities that place constant pressure against the ulnar nerve at the elbow or wrist. Ulnar neuritis may also be caused by repetitive motion at the elbow or wrist.”

For me, it started with numbness and tingling in the ring and little finger of my right hand. It then progressed to aching, stiffness, and occasional sharp shooting pains in the fingers and the back edge of my wrist and forearm, and the funny bone part of the elbow.

Continue reading…

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Interrupted, part 4

This has been quite a month. It has been almost a month since I last made a blog post. It seems that once again life has been interrupted. My dad has continued to significantly struggle with his health. I also managed to come down with a flu bug that has been going around and laid me low for about three weeks. And then there is the matter of my hand.

While for a few months my hand has been doing pretty good, the last few weeks it has been acting up again. I have discovered that there are several things that I do which aggravate the situation. If you recall, I have a condition called Ulnar Neuritus, or aggravation of the Ulnar nerve. The symptoms of this condition include tingling and numbness of the fingers as well as aching and stiffness.

I think what aggravated it this last time was when I got mad at the weeds in my lawn. I have an ongoing battle with buttercup. I am not referring to the Princess Bride. Buttercup is this insidious weed that sends out these shoots which then root and cause the weed to spread, eventually taking over your yard. So one day as I was about to mow our back lawn, I noticed that buttercup was taking it over. It is not easy to pull up. So I got out my hand shovel, dug underneath the roots, and pulled the weeds up as best as I could.

I was at this for at least a half an hour, maybe more. All that time, I was gripping the handle of the hand shovel. I have found that any type of repeated prolonged gripping is what traumatizes my hand. This is how I initially injured my hand over a year ago. I wasn’t pulling weeds, but I was holding a paint brush and paint roller for extended periods of time while I was restaining our deck.

The problem is, once I have traumatized my hand, I can further aggravate it by any type of repetitive motion. For example, by using a computer keyboard and mouse, or by playing the piano. Fortunately, it takes about 3 to 4 times the amount of time to aggravate my hand condition when playing piano as it does when I use the computer keyboard. But when things get really bad, I have to stop using my hand altogether.

So a couple of weeks ago, I finally broke down and bought voice recognition software. I purchased Dragon Speak Naturally. I am currently writing this blog post using it. It seems to be working pretty well. I would already recommend it to anybody who needs to cut down on their computer keyboard time. And I have only been using it now for a half an hour. Pretty impressive.

If I continue to use the software to do simple tasks like writing a blog post or e-mail, then I can save my hand for doing things that I really can’t use voice recognition software to do, such as playing music. And even though this software makes it easier to make corrections to what I write, it is still handy (no pun intended) to use the mouse and keyboard for the occasional correction or for editing.

So a major thumbs up for Dragon Speak Naturally. Perhaps I will get a kickback for such a positive review.

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When Play Is Work

Music is now my full-time job. Hard to believe this is finally happening.

Although this transition has been in the planning for the past two years, it has been interrupted many times in many ways.

First there was the economy tanking at the end of 2008. Not really a good time to start a new career.

Then I developed Ulnar Neuritus. That definitely put all plans on hold. Hard to use your hands for music when the fingers are numb and aching most of the time. My former employer had very good medical coverage, and there were the many visits to doctors and therapists that needed to be paid for.

I was finally let go in mid March because I still can’t work on a computer nine hours a day. This happened to coincide with another life-interrupting event: my Dad getting very sick and almost dying. All of March and early April has been taken up with taking care of family. I’m not complaining. My Dad is doing so much better now and will be coming home soon.

So now, finally, life is settling down into a new “normal”. I start my day out by playing and practicing piano for 30 to 60 minutes. Followed by some vocal exercises or whatever additional music skills I would like to develop. Followed by blogging or Facebook or LinkedIn or other web content development.

Most of this activity feels like playing. I feel sort of guilty. I have been conditioned all these years to think of playing music as a form of recreation that I do in my spare time with the occasional professional gig thrown in.

It’s weird to think of me staying at home, not working a “real job”, and instead playing music, songwriting, recording. I’m pinching myself.

But then I realize that although this is play, this is play for a purpose, for a set of objectives. This is actually work I’m doing. It just seems like play.

For example, I have been working on learning some jazz improvisation during my piano practice. This serves a few purposes: First, it improves my sight reading and technique, helpful for studio work. Second, it makes me more prepared for the occasional jazz gig and gigs in general. Finally, it inspires creativity for some of the music content projects I have planned this year.

Wow! I am finally doing what I love to do.

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Interrupted

Here I was planning to write a blog post every day. I figured it would be good to just get into the habit, get the process going, the juices flowing, the light bulbs glowing, the cattle lowing…you get the picture, but…

But I have been interrupted. Interrupted by something that has been interrupting me for the past eight months. I have developed a condition called Ulnar Neuritis. It is chronic aggravation of the Ulnar nerve. The Ulnar nerve passes along the outside of your arm through a groove in your elbow and down into your hand controlling the ring and little fingers. When the nerve gets aggravated, all sorts of symptoms appear. Usually, there is a little numbness and tingling in the fingers, sometimes aching, sometimes more severe pain. There can also be pain and tenderness at the wrist and elbow.

So, although I was planning to write a post every day, it was bothering my hand way too much. Typing on a computer for any length of time makes my hand feel worse. Resting helps me to recover. This situation is a drag because I make a living with my hands.

To make my life a little easier, I’m trying out speech recognition software. I am currently trying out the speech recognition program that is included in Windows 7. I am trying it now. Supposedly, this is supposed to be faster than typing. In reality, I could have typed this in about a minute. But, it has taken me about 20 minutes to dictate this post. Apparently, the program is supposed to get better at interpreting what I say over time. But for now, I am having to use a lot of correction commands. I am not sure that this is making my life easier, at least not today.

So here I am typing again. I really need to get on with my day. I will write more about being interrupted in future posts because it is a major theme of this blog.

Until then…

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