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I was reading questions on Programmers and I came across this one where a use is having issues with a Repetitive Stress Injury from typing. It got me thinking, is exercise alone a viable alternative therapy to correct the problems that cause RSI?

From what I understand (and I'm probably wrong), RSI problems like Carpel Tunnel Syndrome or Kyphosis (Hunchback) not related to spinal disorders are caused by repetitive action or posture in an awkward position that causes muscles to strengthen in an unnatural manner (Ie out of balance).

If I'm feeling mild (intermittent not consistent) pain in my wrists, doing wrist exercises helps relieve the pain. Or, if my back is starting to hurt from working on a laptop that core/back exercises are an effective way to correct my posture (and get rid of the soreness).


Forearm workout

First you need to make a little setup:

  • Find a short (or cut-off) broomstick
  • Find a weight (5/10/15lb plate with a handle works best) or cinder block
  • Grab a 5 ft length of string (parachute cord works best)
  • Tie one end of the string to the center of the broomstick (clove hitch knot or two for additional strength)
  • The the other end to the weight (same as the broomstick)

For the exercise...

Grab the broomstick in front of you with both hands spread apart, palms down, with the cord dangling down between (elbows hanging down slightly bent) and proceed to roll up the cord onto the broomstick in the same manner that you'd roll up a flag onto a flag pole.

After a few of those, change the direction that you roll up the cord (to target the opposite side of the forearm).


These types of exercises seem work for me but are they really a viable alternative to traditional treatment? Or, is there something I completely missed about the causes of RSI?

Disclaimer: The question talks about measures to prevent severe RSI injuries not cure an an existing severe injury. If your RSI gets bad enough that you feel consistent pain and/or numbness see a doctor.

Update:

I found this video from this question containing some really good stretches to target specific tendons in the wrists that may be causing the pain.

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If @Barbie or @Rhea don't beat me to it, I'll dive into some literature. But doing exercise is definitely beneficial, but RSI has multiple etiologies so it might not be sufficient to completely prevent it. –  Ivo Flipse Mar 26 '11 at 12:20
    
And man, as soon as this question has some answers, it needs to be plugged on Programmers ;-) –  Ivo Flipse Mar 26 '11 at 12:21
    
@Ivo Good idea. There are a lot of questions about RSI and ergonomics on Programmers so it might take a while to cover them all :). –  Evan Plaice Mar 26 '11 at 13:02

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

From my personal experience, you can do all the exercises you want, if you do not eliminate the base cause, it won't help. I was experiencing RSI problems while doing lots and varied exercises, including forearm specific.

For me this meant investing in a few things:

  • new ergonomic keyboard (Logitech Wave, I love it)
  • a mousepad with good wrist support (I bought a gaming one)
  • a better mouse (I have really large hands/palms and so it took me a while to find a mouse that I felt my hand can actually "rest" on)
  • a better chair (even on a budget, you can get some really good office chairs from IKEA)

After I got this setup, even during several months when I had no time to exercise in any way, I had no more problems.

So my 2c are... fix your work area first, then look towards exercises.

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So you can confirm that exercise alone wasn't a solution for your RSI problems. Good to know... I'm just curious, were your RSI problems caused by the exercise, or by a desktop work environment and how bad were your RSI symptoms at the time? –  Evan Plaice Mar 28 '11 at 20:46
    
Mmm... no, definitely not caused by the exercise (I can say that because this was a constant factor), just a bad desktop environment. Mostly the keyboard was the problem in my case. Symptoms were very bad, I had bursts of very intense pain from my wrists through my forearms and towards the end/worst of it a general weakness in the same area and sensitivity (if I squeezed my forearms, the pain would be intolerable). Then I did all of the above and things got progressively better. I followed no other "treatment" of any kind. –  Alex Florescu Mar 28 '11 at 22:25

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repetitive_strain_injury#Psychosocial_factors

I used to suffer from RSI in my wrists. I never got a diagnosis since I started exercising regularly around the same time I started noticing the pain. I never did any wrist specific exercises but my wrists were always better after working out. As I got into a routine of exercising regularly, the pain disappeared altogether.

I wonder if the main cause of the pain is purely psychological for me and working out reduces my stress levels, getting rid of the pain.

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Interesting read. I could definitely imagine how some people who tend to have higher anxiety type personalities (or environments) probably have a higher risk for RSI type injuries. I can confirm that I've had pain and tightening of my upper-back/shoulder muscles in the past on many occasions. I didn't know this could also transfer to wrist pain. –  Evan Plaice Mar 28 '11 at 20:54
    
On a completely off-topic note... For some reason, when I read, "Misinterpretation or over-interpretation of pain signals" I thought of the news media. I wonder if there will ever be a study on, "the negative health affects of tuning into news channels that over-sensationalize world issues". :) –  Evan Plaice Mar 28 '11 at 20:57

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