Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is commonplace now, especially in the office. It is also an injury that, like so many others, can be easily avoided with very little effort.
So What Causes it?
It starts when we do repetitive movements many many times over a long period. As an example we are going to use an RSI caused by using the mouse on a computer but there are similar causes like playing the guitar that can result in carpel tunnel syndrome which in itself is an RSI. As you can probably tell the mouse is used in a very small range of movement that creates relatively large movements on the screen. Very handy for people with little room on the desk but it means that we are using muscles within a very limited range of their possible movement. The muscle doesn’t get used as much outside this range of movement and this starts to create an imbalance. This imbalance starts to create knots and tension in the muscle and surrounding muscles. Before you know it you have RSI and a lot of pain. If you would like to learn about RSI in more detail then please visit this website
So how do you avoid it?
Not so difficult to prevent but you need to get to it before it even starts to happen. Variety is the key here as you could probably tell by the title of the injury. I’m talking about the repetitive part. If you take out the repetitive nature of say moving the computer mouse then you avoid the injury itself. So instead of keeping the mouse in the same location on your desk move it to the side or to the front of your computer so that your arm is at level with your body. Keep changing its position throughout the day.
It is still possible that you may get RSI as the movement is still so small and continuous, so it is important to add stretching to your daily routine. You need to stretch your whole shoulder in the case of RSI caused through using a mouse; however you may need to stretch a different affected area if it is not caused through your arm movement. There are a few different stretches for the shoulder but the best one is actually too complicated for you to do on your own and could result in damaging your shoulder further. My advice is that if it is serious see a physiotherapist to start the initial work on it so that you can then get to the stage where your own stretching and your own routine will be beneficial.
The Stretches for the Shoulder
Stretching Trapezius MuscleUpper Trapezius: Pull your right arm behind your back with your left arm, so that it drops your right shoulder. Now tilt your head to the left. You should feel a stretch around the area starting at the top of your shoulder all the way into your neck. Hold this position for 30 seconds then switch shoulders and stretch the left shoulder for 30 seconds. When holding the stretch maintain it in one position, don’t move it or do small movements to try and get it to go further (bouncing) this can cause injuries. You will find that if you slowly drop your chin down, the stretch changes focus or the area that is being stretched, as it does if you slowly tilt your head back. Feel free to do this as you will be tight in different areas, experiment but always err on the side of caution and go slowly.
Rotator Cuff StretchRotator Cuff: This stretch is a very basic one compared to the one that the physio will do, however it is much safer for you to do on your own. It is actually half stretch and half exercise as it uses your own muscles to stretch, which exercises and strengthens opposing muscles. Hold your arm out to the side at shoulder level with your palm facing upwards. Slowly rotate your whole arm clockwise as you look down your arm towards the direction of your thumb . The movement will be small if anything. Hold this for 30 seconds then rotate your arm anti clockwise (counter clockwise for our American friends) until you can’t go any further. It is important Rotator Cuff Stretch that you stay upright on this movement as it is tempting to lean forwards to aid the movement. Stay strong, upright and try not to let your shoulder come forwards. During these movements you will feel a small pull in and around your shoulder and in your arm. This is okay and part of the process. Hold both sides for 30 seconds then move on to the other arm.
If during either of these stretches you feel pain then get it checked out by your doctor. You will be okay but it does mean that there is more of a problem there than you realized. Get it seen by a professional either a physiotherapist or Sports Therapist. They will be able to give you personalized advice.
There are quite a few strengthening exercises for the shoulder but more often than not they work on the big deltoid muscles (these sit right at the top of the arm at the edge of your shoulder) and the trapezius (a ‘kite’ shaped muscle that starts low in the back and finishes up into your skull creating the 2 raised areas either side of your neck) . A lot of exercises will use the rotator cuff muscles as supporting muscles, if you use free weights, as they should be used. However there is a time when you need to train these muscles like you hopefully train your other muscles. Bad posture and an imbalance in strength between aiding muscles (muscles that help each other with movements)can cause injuries. So let’s face it, it is time to train these relatively small and weak muscles.
Trap your elbow into your side. This is very important as without this position it is a wasted exercise. The elbow has to be trapped into your side all the way through the movement. To help with this I use a towel and trap this rolled up towel (small towel) between my elbow and body. This helps me make sure my elbow doesn’t leave my body. If the towel drops I know I have done it wrong. With your elbow in place with the towel have your forearm at 90 degrees to your elbow and across your body. Now rotate your arm outwards, keeping the elbow in place, letting your shoulder do all the movement. You should end up in the ‘tea pot position’ (as in the children’s rhyme “I’m a little tea pot”) with your arm still at 90 degrees, the elbow locked in position and the forearm now pointing out away from the body. Roataor Cuff Exercise Finishing PointLooking down at your arm in this position your forearm should have rotated about 180 degrees from its start position so that it is now pointing out to your side. Some of you will not be able to get it this far whilst keeping the towel in position and this just means that you really need to work on this exercise as you have found a weakness. Repeat the movement slowly 20 times on each arm twice daily or more if you can. Give it time and you should begin to see a difference.
You can make this exercise harder buy using a cable machine to add resistance or by lying on your side and using a light dumbbell, but I am not going to get in to this now as for the majority of non-professional sport people, the above exercise is fine to get your arm to the strength it needs to be.
For a lot of people these stretches and exercises will be enough to prevent a RSI injury in the shoulder. However if you feel you are in pain constantly and these stretches and exercises aggravate the problem then you have probably left it too long. Seek professional advice immediately from a physiotherapist or sports therapist. They will be able to get you to a stage where you can then do these exercises and make as full a recovery as possible.
Let me know how you get on with these stretches and exercise, be careful and good luck. Remember if you add variety then it does cut out the repetitiveness of it which in turn should avoid the problem in the first place.