edgecase
Author: StJohn Piano
Published: 2020-06-01
Datafeed Article 145
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990 words - 125 lines - 4 pages



[The text below is from a message to a friend.]


re: RSI: I'm sorry you got it as well. Good news: I have recovered from 1% computer-use capability to about 75%, so it can definitely be overcome.

There's no single treatment, really - there are several, and in addition I ended up completely overhauling the way in which I approached computer-based work. Essentially I now think of it as a tool for skilled production of useful text and digital assets (e.g. internal business communications, code, articles, images, web applications, bookkeeping records), and of myself as a craftsman, who must take precautions in order to not be physically worn down during years of practising his craft. I therefore apply a degree of care and attention to equipment and "the process of work" that is similar to that which you might find in any manufacturing system.

I studied RSI for a long time and wrote an overview of it:
An Overview of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)

I have learned / tried several more things since I wrote that article:

- Sports massage therapist: I think they're a better bet than normal masseuses because their patients are usually more focused on results than on relaxation. Was expensive and often painful, but very effective. It got me back to being able to work again. Although the pain most often expresses itself in the hands / wrists / forearms, it can be caused by nerve entrapment in other places (e.g. shoulders, neck, trapezius, rhomboids, elbow). A good sports therapist will have a thorough knowledge of anatomy and will search for possible causes. It's best to keep a journal, so that over time you can help pinpoint causes / problems, and find out where massage helps the most.

- Dry needling (Westernised version of acupuncture): Appears to cause the body to to unwrap / massage trigger points and buildups in the muscles (perhaps via increased blood flow - still not sure exactly how it works), at a deeper level than can be reached by massage. Obviously, check the practitioner's credentials and history before you get needles stuck in you. But the treatment can be extremely effective, especially when used in combination with massage.

- Osteopathy: Anatomy varies. An osteopath that I'm currently seeing has found that I have some very rigid tissue around several vertebrae. He thinks that this is interfering with the nerve signals that direct blood flow into the arms, in turn causing the arm muscles to exhaust themselves more rapidly than normal, which then leads to RSI problems. He's doing the crunches / treatments that should hopefully loosen this tissue and reduce the problem.

- Equipment: I have a decent chair (adjustable in various ways, lumbar support, headrest, adjustable armrests). I don't use a laptop screen very often - I use monitor arms to hold external monitors up so that my head is not leaning forward. I use an adjustable-height keyboard tray (made out of a small shelving unit from a DIY store), which is not connected to the desk (so that the monitors don't move due to keyboard vibration). I use a split keyboard so that my shoulders are not rolled forwards and inwards, plus long gel pads across the entire front of the keyboard tray on which to rest palms.

- Exercises: Next to my work setup, I have a yoga mat, spiky foam roller, small spiky ball (for applying to trigger points, e.g. in biceps or in deltoid muscles, using body weight), a medium-size S-shaped metal bar (allows you to press on trigger points on the back or the back of the arm / shoulder), long stick (for standing up and holding behind head with raised arms in order to stretch out back and pectoral muscles after computer use), a poster that shows how to do various stretching exercises, and elastic stretch bands. A good initial exercise is to lie on the yoga mat and roll yourself on top of a tennis ball (but be careful not to roll the the tennis ball over your spine). A push-up bar can be used to (carefully) massage the neck a bit. I have an electric massager (which is essentially two rotating pairs of hard rigid spheres, with an optional heating element) that can be used on most parts of the body, especially with some body weight. I use it regularly - it's not as good as a masseuse, but it's reasonably helpful. (You can also get a long way with inventive use of your own hand to apply massage, via pressure from the thumb.) I take breaks during the workday to use one of these approaches / tools. It doesn't have to take very long. I have wireless headphones and can listen to music or or a small section of a lecture / interview while stretching.

- Other things:
-- I usually go for a walk first thing in the morning and often another one during the day - the simple act of walking and getting fresh air stretches out the body in various ways.
-- Good sleep habits matter - they help the muscles to recover from the work. I have a blackout shade that I can roll down over my window.
-- Mental condition is important. Mental tension will express itself as muscle tension and increase the likelihood of RSI symptoms. I try to make time to meditate.

You don't need to do everything mentioned here. This is simply the list of things I have ended up doing. People and their conditions vary and these may not all work for you.

As I was writing this out and started to think through everything involved, I decided to turn it into an article, in order to be able to send a link to it if anyone else asks me about RSI, so this answer is probably more in depth than you were expecting.