Hands, Computers and You:
What you can do about Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI)
Cliff Smyth, GCFT
We use them almost constantly. A considerable portion of the neurons in the somato-sensory strip of our brains is devoted to them. Yet, as with many aspects of our embodied lives, we often don’t pay much attention to our hands and arms – until we experience some discomfort or pain.
The computer revolution, especially rapid in the Bay Area, means more and more of us spend more of our time sitting (or slumping!) in a chair, making fine movements with our fingers, holding up our arms and hands, and focusing our eyes on characters on a screen.
I remember 30 years ago we used to laugh at the futuristic cartoon character George Jetson who got pain in his finger from his job of pushing a button all day! Today many of us know that pain and discomfort associated with using a keyboard is no joke.
Conventional wisdom says that changing the physical environment through ergonomic improvements or altering the amount of work done (not always an option for many of us) are the best ways to prevent or reduce computer-related injuries. From the point of view of the Feldenkrais Method, of vital importance is also how we use ourselves. For example, how we organize our movement and our attention in relation to the functional tasks at hand and the physical and social environments we find ourselves in (represented by chairs, keyboards, the work process itself, etc.). Attention to how we move, breathe, sit, look, etc. can be essential to reducing strain and increasing comfort. In this way we can enhance our responses to the stresses, prevent injury or re-injury and promote recovery of our abilities.
Recent research shows that prolonged computer use can lead to fatigue of the muscles of the back, shoulders and neck, and arms. When muscles fatigue others are recruited to the functional task – often leading to the progressive and moving symptoms many people report with repetitive strain injuries. Other research shows people with overuse injuries sometimes lose some of the sensory precision in their hands.
Individual lessons and group classes in the Feldenkrais Method can assist through helping you to:
- become aware of, and alter, habitual patterns of muscular imbalance and tension
- find comfort and support in functional activities, e.g. how to find skeletal support in sitting and for lifting your arms, thus reducing the strain on muscles and tendons
- gain a better sense of the appropriate effort and force for the task – reducing excessive effort and subsequent wear and tear on joints, tendons, muscles
- find new way to respond to stress, e.g. through attention to your breathing, etc.
- refine or regain more precise sensation in our hands and our whole selves.