We are what we repeatedly do
Our bodies tell a story of what we do all day long. Each body tells a different story because we are what we repeatedly do and repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) are a product of that repetition – they develop over time well after bad postural habits are formed.
Sometimes these habits are seemingly so small and insignificant that we don’t even realise strain patterns are forming. That is, until someone like me finds tender points in places you didn’t know were sore.
RSIs take time to heal and, while it is important to remember that time does heal all wounds, we are impatient and no one likes to be in pain.
The good news about RSIs taking a long time to develop means that there are plenty of opportunities along the way to do something about them before they become problematic. Remember prevention is better than cure.
In order to understand how to prevent injuries caused by what we do all day long, first we must understand how these injuries slowly develop and what these injuries actually are.
RSIs are characterised by repetitive strain. They can form from sitting at a desk and clicking on a mouse all day long, or they can form from manual labour, such as digging and cleaning. They also form from sport, most commonly sports that require repetitive over the head movements.
RSIs in the office occur in the shoulder, wrist, arm or neck region and are a result of repetitive tasks performed in a fixed posture, causing pain and inflammation.
You may be familiar with the following RSI type injuries:
- carpal tunnel – characterised by wrist pain with pins and needles at nighttime in the hands
- tennis elbow – characterised by pain on the outside of the elbow causing weakness in grip, and
- golfer’s elbow – characterised by pain on the inside of the elbow radiating into the forearm.
There are some important factors that contribute to RSIs that are worth a mention and some consideration:
- poor posture
- office job requiring constant computer use
- poor ergonomics at your desk
- lack of exercise
- underlying medical conditions, and
- being overweight.
All of these risk factors need daily consideration when working at a desk. Bad habits evolve over time and with these bad habits strain patterns develop. The body will compensate for these patters until it can no longer compensate and then pain will develop.
Usually what I see with RSIs in the neck, shoulder, elbow or wrist is postural problems arising in the lower back and hips that the body has been compensating for over time. This results in tension between the shoulders and into the neck before creeping down into the arms, forearms and eventually the wrist.
Unfortunately, the underlying postural problem will have started long before you are able to feel the pain in your elbow and wrist and this needs to be addressed in order to start the healing process.
Begin by changing the way in which you are accustomed to thinking about the body – it being a sum of its parts. Instead, start to think of the body as a structure with communication systems – one being a pulley system run by the connective tissue. With this mindset you can start to appreciate that a pull down in the hip will have a pulling effect in the shoulder and into the arm.
“The good news about RSIs taking a long time to develop means that there are plenty of opportunities along the way to do something about them before they become problematic. Remember prevention is better than cure.
Understanding the way strain patterns begin and how they develop over time is the key to preventing and managing RSIs in the workplace.
Little things like always crossing your right leg over your left when you sit at a desk or on a couch contribute to these small postural strains developing over time.
If you are constantly talking to the person on your right all day long without moving your whole body to look in that direction your body will adjust accordingly to favour that side, causing asymmetry and lines of tension that need somewhere to go.
This is the reason why getting up and moving around the office can be so important for your health. Not only are you increasing your circulation, hence aiding waste removal from your tissues, you are also giving your body a break from these strain patterns developing over the course of the day.
This is where stretching is of great benefit to remind the body to unwind and let go of any strain patterns that are developing from holding certain postures for extended periods. Getting up and stretching at regular intervals throughout the day, making sure that wherever possible you are not sitting in one position for longer than an hour, is the best thing you can do to prevent RSIs.
Stress also plays a role in contributing to RSIs. Sometimes stress and long hours at the desk are unavoidable; however, when you are snowed under with work and stressed out, this is when you should be getting up, moving around and having a bit of a stretch for the most beneficial impact.
As we all know, when we feel stressed and overwhelmed this is the time we form bad habits and forget to put our health as a priority.
It is also important to make sure that if you have tension in your lower back, neck and shoulders you don’t wait too long to do something about it. Getting regular massages, acupuncture, osteopathy or other allied health modalities will go a long way to helping you prevent postural strains that end up in RSIs.
This article also appears in Facility Management magazine.