Reprinted from The RSI Network - Issue 32 - October'98
Jesse Parker, PhD
Ouch! So, youre the computer operator whose left forearm is beginning to hurt, or maybe youre the supermarket clerk whose right hand is beginning to stiffen after repeatedly passing items over the bar code scanner. Perhaps youre the pianist who has worked on a difficult passage again and again and again, and youre starting to feel a tingling sensation in some of your fingers. Now what?
You read some articles about repetitive motion injuries, and you suspect that you may be a candidate for such injuries. Your health and safety director at work recommends reading about "no-nos" such as incorrect posture, excessive force, overuse, and insufficient rest, and you try to follow the advice given in those articles. But the stiffness isnt getting better, and the pain is maybe a little worse than it was.
Perhaps you then invest in a wrist rest, or an ergonomic keyboard, and you also try popping some anti-inflammatory medication. Later, you may try Rolfing, or some other therapeutic massage treatment, but despite all this, your hand or arm or fingers arent feeling much better.
Well, maybe thats because you havent examined how youre performing your specific task. You'd better do that right now, before its too late. How are you using your body, or not using it? Thats where you should start if you want to find a solution to your stiffness or pain.
For example, take a piece of chalk (or a marker) and try to draw (or maybe just imagine drawing) a small, horizontal figure 8 on a blackboard or marker board (or imaginary board). Trace over the same figure 8 again and again, by just moving your hand from the wrist joint, while the rest of your arm remains stationary. Doesnt that feel terrible? Now, try doing the same thing, only this time move your entire arm from the shoulder, keeping your wrist loose, and trace that same figure 8 repeatedly. Now, make a bigger figure 8, and really feel that entire arm involvement. Doesnt that feel freer, all over?
Heres another example: Make a bunch of dots on the board, by just flipping your chalk-holding hand from the wrist joint toward the board (without moving your forearm or top arm). Do that again and again. Ouch! Now try the same thing, but use the rest of your arm from the shoulder, as you gently flip your wrist toward the blackboard. Feel better? Remember, whatever your task is, the more you can involve the larger muscle groups of your body, the less you're subjecting the smaller muscle groups (such as forearm and hand) to stress.
If you operate a computer and your keyboard position consists of your hands being held high while your wrists are held down low on the desk or on a wrist rest, forget it! The other extreme, with the wrist being held high, is just as ridiculous. Depending on what else youre doing (or not doing), some part of your body will sooner or later react to this misalignment with symptoms of stress. So, maintain a reasonably comfortable alignment at all joints.
Heres a suggestion: Try punching the keys the way you punched those dots onto the blackboard, using your fingers as extensions of both your hands and your forearm and top arm as well. Now, look at those wristsare they flexing, and thereby slightly changing their alignment with respect to your forearm? If your wrists are flexing, youre doing it right; if theyre staying in one position, youre doing it wrong. Listen up! Loosen up! Everything moves.
Heres an example where an apparent straight-line back-and-forth motion can have follow-through or continuity of motion: Try drawing a straight horizontal line on your board (real or imaginary), going back and forth, repeatedly from point "a" to point "b", and back to point "a", etc. Stop when you get to either point before you reverse direction. Do you feel that stressful "muscle lock" that accompanies each abrupt stop? To avoid that, try leading with your wrist, and just before you reach either point, begin to reverse your wrist position so that its leading in the direction of the return movement to the other point.
As another example, consider hammering. The hammer may "stop" when it reaches the nail and pushes it in, and so will your hand gripping it. However, if you flex your wrist up, at that instant, to lead your arm "up and away" (while still holding on to the hammer), youll greatly reduce the stress of that repetitive activity.
Avoid Abrupt Changes of Speed
The Best Mode of Power
Listen to Your Body
Caution: Any pain you experience may very well need medical attention, and you may need to rest that portion of your body and forego a particular activity for a period of time, before taking steps to finding a better way to perform your task. Forget the "no pain, no gain" philosophy! Get in tune with your body to achieve positive, healthy results. Your goal is a happy body. The power is within you. Do it, now!
About the Author
Last Updated: 10/21/00