Repetitive Strain Injuries
The rise of computer use is calling attention to an increasing occurrence of repetitive strain injuries or RSI’s. Often attributed to long hours of desk work, RSI’s can develop from repeated movements during any activity at work or leisure, resulting in pain, loss of work, and decreased enjoyment of everyday life. Therapeutic massage is proving to be an effective tool for prevention and recovery from repetitive strain injuries.
WHAT IS REPETIVIVE STRAIN INJURY?
Repetitive strain injuries, also known as cumulative trauma or overuse injuries, are injuries that most often occur in the soft tissues of the hand, wrist, forearm, shoulders and neck. Soft tissues include muscles, tendons and ligaments. Tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon), carpal tunnel syndrome, plantar fascitis (inflammation of the sole of the foot) and tennis/golfer’s elbow are common types of RSI’s. Repetitive strain injuries develop from frequently repeated actions. They can be brought about by short and quick movements, or positions held constantly over time. The latter can include gripping a computer mouse or a hammer; or sitting at a desk for long hours in an unsupported forward-head posture. People who operate computers, stand for prolonged periods of time, or use fine motor skills, such as musicians, craft workers or assembly-line workers are at risk for RSI’s. The repeated movements cause a build-up of microscopic tears in the tissues leading to inflammation, swelling and pain.
THE CYCLE OF PAIN AND DYSFUNCTION The body has difficulty healing from repetitive strain injuries. First, muscles tighten around the injury, reducing the normal circulation necessary for healing. In addition, scar tissue begins to build in an attempt to repair tears in muscles and tendons. But scar tissue tends to be weaker and more rigid than healthy tissue, and can restrict the normal action of the muscles and tendons. When repetitive movements are continued, this tissue is likely to re-tear, causing more inflammation and swelling. A cycle of pain and injury can begin, leading to decreased range of motion and a further reduction in circulation. Muscles weaken because they are painful to use, and other compensatory muscles attempt to pick up the workload often becoming overused themselves. To make matters worse, swelling from inflammation and scar tissue may also press on nerves (as in carpal tunnel syndrome), causing additional pain and dysfunction. Help is often needed to stop the cycle.
SYMPTOMS OF REPETITIVE STRAIN INJURY The first symptom of an RSI is pain with specific movements. Next, the pain will occur during other activities, and may last hours after you stop the activity. Other symptoms may include tingling, cold or numb-like sensations, hypersensitivity, and diminished coordination and dexterity. You may even experience symptoms in areas distant, or “referred”, from your injury. These may be caused by highly irritable spots at the injury site known as trigger points. Pain in the wrist, elbow or shoulders may also be referred from a ligament injury in your neck.
CAUSES OF REPETITIVE STRAIN INJURY Contributing factors to repetitive strain injuries can include: inadequate adjustment or sizing of your work station, inefficient posture of improperly supported movements, fatigue, lack of physical tone, a sudden increase in activity or diseases such as arthritis or diabetes. Stress overload or emotional states that lead to muscle tension, such as anxiety or anger, may also increase vulnerability to RSI’s.
HOW CAN MASSAGE HELP? Massage therapy can decrease pain and enhance healing in a number of ways. It reduces trigger points and increases pliability of scar tissue in the tendons and other soft tissues, making movement easier and re-tearing less likely. By improving blood and lymph circulation, massage can help reduce painful swelling, aid in the elimination of accumulated toxins and speed oxygen and healing nutrients to the tissues. Massage helps relax tight muscles and improve range of motion as shortened tissues are gently stretched and lengthened. It may also improve posture or joint alignment, reducing stress to your affected area and decreasing the possibility of reinjury. Massage can also be used as a preventive measure, releasing tension and reducing inflammation before a repetitive strain injury develops.