The Dummies’ Guide to Repetitive Stress Injuries
By Dr. Molly Casey
What do you spend most of your time doing in your waking hours? For many folks, the answer is sitting at computers, on cell phones or a combination of both -- for work, communication and gathering information. Without proper care, this extended time poses a problem for your body -- how you function and, eventually, how you feel. So what’s the deal, how can these behaviors be so bad?
Repetitive Strain Injuries
Repetitive stress injury is an umbrella term that covers disorders or injuries to the musculoskeletal and/or nervous system. This can occur due to tasks that are performed repeatedly, forceful movements, mechanical compressions, vibrations, or sustained or awkward positions. They are also known as repetitive strain injuries, repetitive motion injuries, cumulative trauma disorders and overuse injuries. What this actually means is that your tendons, ligaments and/or nerves begin to suffer or are injured from the consistent level of stress placed on them. These conditions usually manifest when you’re performing the same motions over and over, holding an awkward position, or you’re consistently exposing portions of your body to the same vibrational forces (such as motorcycle riders holding the handlebars) or forceful exertions for long periods of time.
Your muscles, tendons and nerves perform tasks and withstand forces they are meant to be able to undertake. However, the often lack of full range of motion and the repetitive nature of the tasks with no maintenance or tender loving care paid to them is the issue. Your body is a machine with pieces and parts that move together, just like your car. So, if you drive your car without ever changing the oil, rotating the tires, getting new spark plugs and performing regular maintenance, how long do you think it will last? The lack of maintenance would reduce the lifespan of that car, right? Also, the car wouldn’t run as well as if you were regularly maintaining it, correct? It’s the same thing with your body.
The maintenance for your body includes ensuring proper joint motion and function -- regular chiropractic adjustments, plenty of proper full range of motion exercises -- along with regular exercise, stretching routines, and proper lubrication/fuel-appropriate hydration (water) and food.
Take a moment to think of any one day in the last week. Go through the day in your mind and actually add up the time spent that you were using your computer, texting, or surfing the internet -- do the best you can. Now, the most prominent motion during that time is likely movement of the fingers and sustained position of your wrist, right? So between now and the time you come in to see us at The Joint Chiropractic, take advantage of a few tips you can practice on your own to help combat repetitive strain injury (RSI) in the wrist and fingers.
- Give your hands a break from your keypad during long work hours.
- Try to keep wrists flat or “neutral” while typing.
- Relax your shoulders. A lot of us are prone to store stress in our shoulders.
- Set yourself up for proper alignment at your desk.
- You should be able to rest your elbows alongside your body, and sit with a tall spine and neutral wrists.
- Be sure your head is stacked over your shoulders, not reaching forward.
- Use your whole hand, not just your fingers, when gripping or opening objects.
- When texting, bring the phone to eye level occasionally just to break up the pattern of consistently looking down.
- Stretch your wrists by extending your arm in front of you palm down, grab your wrist with the other hand, apply pressure in flexion bringing fingers toward the floor. Repeat with the same wrist, fingers up toward the ceiling and bringing the wrist into extension.
- Take a few minutes throughout the day to fully move your wrists, hands, and fingers through their full range of motion with wrist rolls.Open and close hands into fists with full finger movement.
I find the hardest part for most patients is simply remembering to be conscious of proper alignment, periodic movement and stretching. And that’s easy -- set a reminder on your phone, your computer or write a reminder on that old-fashioned sticky note.
Dr. Molly Casey is a Doctor of Chiropractic who practices in the Los Angeles area. She works twice a week at The Joint Chiropractic in Glendale, CA.