Repetitive Strain Injuries are Everywhere! What’s up with that?

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By Jacqueline Rubinstein

During an individual Feldenkrais session, while I was training at the Feldenkrais Institute of New York, one of my teachers, asked me if I had ever broken my wrist. Nope! Hadn’t even sprained it as far as I knew.

She was surprised by my answer because she could feel something was not quite right with my wrist. She told me it felt like a repetitive strain injury.

Hmmmm, I wondered what it could be from. I asked her if biking might be related because that was a big part of my life and my main mode of transportation. She confirmed that was a likely culprit since biking can put a lot of pressure on the heels of the hands, depending on the bike set-up.

Because I was busy pushing through my hectic life, finishing school and working full-time, I hadn’t even noticed that something funky was going on with my wrist. What I had noticed was that every time I rode my bike my neck hurt. My teacher explained the stress on my wrists was intimately related to the pain in my neck. It was an overall posture issue.

Now as my healing practice evolves and my awareness continues to increase, I see repetitive strain trouble everywhere! Bicyclists, musicians, anyone with a desk job, cashiers, massage therapists, athletes–the list seems endless!

Can we do anything about this? Or are repetitive strain issues an unavoidable part of life?

One solution I have found is giving my clients a clearer understanding of how to use their skeleton to really support them and that moving their full body in a desired activity, rather than just one part, is a very effective way to heal and prevent repetitive strain injuries. I also teach people how to use the larger muscles in their body for the bulk of the work so that the smaller muscles can do the fine-tuning, which is really what our small muscles are for.

For me, this meant getting upright handlebars on my bike to replace the less comfortable dropdown ones. The new handlebars allowed me to sit more upright and rest the majority of my weight on my butt, instead of on my wrists. Having more weight on my seat enabled my skeleton to support me better and allowed the large muscles of my back and abdomen to do more of the work they are supposed to do, making my wrists available for control and balance, not holding me up. And, the more I relaxed the pressure on my wrists, the more my neck stopped hurting, too!

When I get tired while riding my bike, I notice that the weight starts to fall back on my wrists. As soon as I am aware of the discomfort, I know just what to do to ease the strain. I sit back, with my weight on my butt, and enjoy the ride.

I worked with a Timpani player from the Calgary Symphony, who learned from the Feldenkrais Method that if he thought of his arms as coming all the way from the center of his back, his wrists didn’t hurt when he played.

Another client is a plant nursery owner with a repetitive strain issue in her shoulder. Lifting heavy bags of potting soil, carting around flats of plants, and turning over compost are all activities that flare up her injury.

Getting a clearer sense of how she has been contradicting herself in movement and how she can involve more of her skeleton and large muscles when doing these tasks has alleviated the pain and provided much-needed relief. It is the difference of getting a concrete, sensory-based understanding of herself, as opposed to an abstract idea that she should somehow incorporate the core muscles or protect her shoulder.

No need to choose between being in pain or giving up what you love to do!

Instead, let’s find a way to reduce unnecessary stress and pressure on those small muscles and really put our larger muscles to work! Getting a clearer understanding of your skeleton, how it moves and how it can really support you is the first step to minimizing repetitive injury and pain.

Do you think you might have a repetitive strain injury? Think about how can you use more of yourself when you are doing the activities that cause discomfort. Can you find a way to involve your back, your pelvis, and your feet? As always, I would love to hear what you come up with!

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