The Prevention and Treatment of RSI, Part 1: Decreasing the Damage Rate for the introduction.
RSI stands for Repetitive Strain Injury. In the present discussion, I will concentrate on RSI as it occurs to computer users.
A quick primer on RSI:
- An activity that causes "strain" produces microscopic tears or damage to your tissue.
- To counteract this, your tissues are able to repair themselves at a certain rate.
- You get RSI when the rate of damage exceeds the rate of repair for extended periods of time.
- The prevention and treatment of RSI completely revolve around decreasing the damage rate and increasing the tissue repair rate.
In this post, I will be discussing the mechanics and tactics related to
increasing the repair rate.
Increasing the RSI tissue repair rate
Tissues in the body undergo routine maintenance with the help of the
blood supply. The blood carries to the region all the necessary
nutrients and other components for tissue repair and regeneration, and
carries away the waste products of such processes. Furthermore, much
of actual tissue reconstruction happens during sleep. Most of the
effort in increasing the tissue repair rates will resolve around these
two key points.
The reason that RSI is such a challenge to treat is that much of the
damage is done to the connective tissues like tendons and sheaths.
These tissues, by their very nature, have very little blood supply,
which places a natural limit of the rate of repairs to these tissues.
It is not uncommon for RSI damage to require years of recuperation,
making it that much more important to do what you can on a day-to-day
basis to help with the tissue repair process.
Tactics to increase the RSI tissue repair rate
Here are some practical tactics for increasing the repair rates of the
- Keep your hands warm at all times
The top reason why there is insufficient blood circulation to your
hands is that they are cold. In part 1 of this series, I mentioned
that you should avoid typing with cold hands due to the reduction of
lubrication. This particular tactic extends the need to keep your
hands warm to all hours. Tissue repairs happen around the clock, so
to maximize the amount of repairs that can be done in single day, you
should seek to avoid having cold extremities at all times if at all
- Improve your cardiovascular conditioning
Since the tissue repairs are rate-limited by the blood circulation to
the affected areas, one way to increase the repair rate is to improve
your systemic cardiovascular conditioning. Any training that improves
your cardiovascular capacity will help. Personally, I prefer Tabata
sprints due to their effectiveness and time efficiency, but if you
like jogging, hiking, or ellipticals then they will work just as well.
- Weight train
Weight training is a very effective way to increase the amount of
circulation to a part of a body. In the context of RSI, we are
primarily interested in increase the blood flow to the arms. This can
be accomplished by weight training any of the major muscle groups in
the arms. A caveat: DO NOT perform any weight training exercises if
it causes you pain. Also, I am not fond of exercises like squeezing a
squeeze ball that require your tendons go under continuous movement
and thereby causing them to incur additional friction damage while
performing exercise. Exercises that only apply a static load on your
tendons are preferred, e.g. push-ups, pull-ups, curls, etc.
People who naturally have cold hands often find that their hands start
to stay warmer during the day once they start a weight training
regime, as the blood vessel network becomes better developed in order
to supply the now larger muscles.
- Get adequate, high quality sleep
Even though tissue repairs happen around the clock, a substantial
majority of it happens during sleep. It is therefore of vital
importance that you get adequate, high quality sleep so that your
tissues can better repair themselves.
- Avoid cutting off circulation to your arms and wrists during sleep
Since much of the tissue repairs during sleep, it is vitally important
that the blood circulation to your arms and hands are not hampered
during sleep. Avoid putting your arms or hands in awkward positions
that cause them to go numb or otherwise impede blood circulation to
them. Also avoid crushing your limbs with either your own body or that
of someone else.
Avoid having your wrists bent in awkward angles during sleep. Some
people with advanced RSI also find that their fists become clenched
during sleep. You can manage these conditions by loosely wearing a
wrist brace while sleeping in order to keep the hands and wrists in a
neutral position. Remember not to put them on so tight that it
impedes your blood circulation.
You should not wait until you have started suffering the symptoms of
RSI to start trying to increase the tissue repair rate. Recall that
RSI is caused by incurring damage at a rate in excess of the repair
rate for an extended period of time. Paying early attention to the
things that can help you increase the repair rate will substantially
increase your likelihood of avoiding RSI in the first place.