I remember the first time I heard about repetitive strain injuries. I was 10 years old and the local grocery store had just installed new, exciting laser scanners. Grocery sales went through the roof as we all went to the store to marvel at technology! Soon thereafter, the checkers were complaining of arm and hand pain. A couple weeks later, they wore braces on their wrists and grimaces on their faces. What happened?
A new combination of muscles was suddenly overloaded. The checkers had developed the strength for holding an item with the left hand and punching numbers into a machine with the right. Then, without gradual introduction, they were required to use a different movement—8 hours a day—of rotating the right forearm and using a different angle of movement in the torsos. The tendons that connect the forearm to the hand swelled in the wrist creating what is now a commonly known condition, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).
As our work has become more specialized, it’s also lost the variety that better supported well-rounded strength and flexibility. Of course, certain occupations have inherent challenges. As a bodyworker, I spend hours a day with my arms in front of my body, making me susceptible to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), a condition that cuts off the blood and nerve supply to the arms.
The increased use of computers—and video games—increases the incidence of many types of repetitive strain injuries. This is more a matter of compromising the body over time. This article from WebMD gives excellent insight: http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20030711/awareness-cuts-repetitive-strain-injury.
I counteract this tendency with strengthening and stretching programs that are designed to restore balance, not just to my arms and shoulders, but to the entire posture that contributes to the shortening in front. I use small weights for my rotator cuff, yoga postures, and a specialized stretching program developed by Sharon Butler: http://www.selfcare4rsi.com/. I do these stretches every morning.
Sharon has created dozens of customized programs, for different injuries like CTS, TOS, golfer’s and tennis elbow, and also by occupation, such as dental hygienists, chemists, accountants, even pastry chefs!
They are so effective, because they restore the tissues gradually over a 6 week period, with stretches that progress as the muscles are able to accommodate increased range. That’s vitally important with injuries, because other ways of working often create more damage. The programs also give invaluable information on how to stretch in general and how to care for your connective tissue.
Fortunately, we have many resources for repetitive strain, including programs you can load on the computer to remind you to stretch, like http://www.prevent-rsi.com/, and knowledgeable physical therapists. We’re now used to the scanners at the grocery store—and many other types of technology—and are learning how to cope with our specialized world.