Treating the cause

All this ice is all very well, but it seems to me that you’re treating a symptom instead of the course. Bizarre as it may sound, I have found a relaxation programme incredibly effective. The strangest thing was to start with it was incredibly painful. Strange eh-finding relaxing painful! I think that says a lot about RSI.

Comment 1: I have to say at this point that since we do not REALLY know what the cause is, ALL treatment tends to be symptomatic. The advantage of icing is that it does deal with secondary causal problems by reducing local inflammation and swelling and easing pain. Many list members have been in pain for a very long time. Surely anything which helps should be used. As a Safety Officer, anxious to prevent RSI, I would be delighted to be able to find an agreed cause, acceptable to all, which actually correlates with the damage. There’s no shortage of theories of course.

Comment 2: I guess my biggest problem with icing, is that while it may reduce pain through numbing, etc, I believe that you are merely taking away pain so that you can continue damaging yourself and aggravating the cause.  I would really like to share my story with you in the hope that it helps someone who is coping with this debilitating condition. I have been managing RSI since I was 22, some 4 ½ years ago. At its worse I could not hold down a job, could not peg out washing, do the ironing, drive a car or type. I was in my last year of university and very fortunate to have a partner who typed (I dictated) all my assignments for me, until the end of the year when I graduated (and became unemployable).

I was living away from home, knew no-one of my own age with the problem, had a very unsympathetic Doctor and was very ignorant of both what I now believe to be the cause and means of treating the condition. I tried, what was at the time alternative treatment, but was in fact deep-tissue massage and found this helpful, but was frustrated that I couldn’t do anything to help myself. I.e. the highlight of my day was treatment, in between times I was unemployed and useless to anyone as I was in too much pain and indeed lacking any strength do anything. Tingling, aches, pains, numbness, agony, pains in my fingers, arms, shoulders, neck, mid and lower back, waking in the night in pain. You name it, I had it. I couldn’t even carry a plate of food to the table for fear of my hands giving way. The absolute worst thing of all, and I’m sure many list members will agree with this, is that it was invisible. No-one could see anything wrong, just a healthy young woman in the ‘prime’ of her life. I know many people object to being told to get a new career. Well, I hadn’t even had a chance to have one. My life was in tatters.

This was a real low point in my life and in retrospect (my partner recognised it at the time), I suffered from clinical depression, due to the sheer helplessness of my situation. The turning point came when I was introduced to a RSI specific programme which focused on relaxation. The theory behind the programme was that in times of stress, the big muscles in the shoulders become tense and reduce the blood flow to the arms. This in turn leads to the body being forced to work on anaerobic instead of aerobic sources of energy, and a resulting build-up of lactic acid. (Interestingly enough, I find the best way to help (healthy) people experience what RSI feels like, is to hold their arm up in the air, above their head and clench and unclench the fist, until they too begin to feel the symptoms of lactic acid build-up. It doesn’t take them long to become a lot more understanding!)

The programme focuses on a RSI being a viscous circle: stress leading to a build-up of tension in your muscles, leading to pain, leading to stress leading to pain… i.e. Anyone who cuts their finger or breaks a leg isn’t going to relax, but rather their body will hold itself tense with pain. The same goes for RSI. Eventually your body ‘forgets’ or at least loses its ability to relax. So the programme focused on teaching me to relax, by talking me through a physical (verbal) relaxation within a clinical setting on a weekly basis, and a tape to listen to at home twice a day, which went through the same procedure. In addition, where relevant, workstations are monitored, which is pretty basic and common-sense obviously. Also through analysis, we found where my worst bouts of RSI were coming on, i.e. what was set me off so to speak!

For me the most telling part of the treatment was that I found relaxation VERY painful. This in itself told me something was wrong with my body. Initially the treatment had to be aided by painkillers, particularly to help me sleep. By the way, the programme believes that waking during the night with pain is due to your body relaxing and the blood finally being able to flow healthily! Incidentally I found Mercyndol very helpful as a muscle relaxant/sleeping pill (commonly used for bad period pains and migraines). I don’t know if it available over the counter here, or what it is known as. Another strange side-effect of the programme was that when you truly relaxed, your body twitched like mad. I’m not sure why!
I now hold down a job where I do a lot of typing-although I will never be a secretary or a speed typist. My employer does not know I ever suffered from this condition…there is no need. I manage my typing, have regular breaks and am probably more conscientious and less at risk now than most. Yes I still have my moments, but I just run to have a listen to my relaxation tape! Re-reading this email for spelling mistakes I am very aware that the programme may sound strange. Relaxation-surely it can’t be that simple! Like everything I am sure it won’t work for everybody. I guess what sold it to me was that it made sense, scientifically and in my own head. It was proactive, i.e. I could treat myself, and it was simple. The ultimate proof for me was the life of absolute agony, with no apparent hope, was turned round.

I hope this is helpful to someone out there. I know how painful RSI can be, and the hopelessness of trying to find a way to make it better. I am new in this country and a new subscriber to this list. I only wish I’d had this support you have 4 ½ years ago! As an aside, I also found hot baths, aromatherapy and physiotherapy helpful. I believe warmth is great for encouraging the blood flow. It can be painful if the blood hasn’t flowed healthily for some time. There is definitely lots of ways to aid relaxation. I do not recommend surgery. No I don’t believe this programme is scientifically proven, given how recently they finally agreed on what caused stomach ulcers, I wouldn’t hold your breath!  I would be interested in people’s comments.

Comment 3: “All this ice is all very well, but it seems to me that you’re treating a symptom instead of the course”. –  True. But you have to know what the cause is before you can try to tackle it. My condition cannot be treated by physiotherapy. Ihave seen a specialist physio who does help a lot of people: he put my back right as a freebie but could do nothing for my RSI. I am not saying that from self-pity. I am lucky in that I had an accurate and firm and unassailable diagnosis of a known physical injury.

“Bizarre as it may sound, I have found a relaxation programme incredibly effective”. –  It depends on the type of RSI and the type of relaxation programme. I learned a powerful relaxation technique, a form of mediation, being bio-monitored at the same time, and to that have managed to add autogenic. Techniques as powerful as that can be dangerous and have to be properly taught, and that costs quite a lot. (I got mine cheap!)

“The strangest thing was to start with it was incredibly painful. Strange eh-finding relaxing painful!”. I took it up before I had RSI because I thought I couldn’t relax. That turned out to be completely wrong and I stayed with the course out of interest. It wasn’t painful at all, ever. It can though, as it brings about a state of heightened awareness, both help control pain and make you more aware of it. That may be what you mean. When I use it now it hurts as it did not before, as it lowers blood pressure by sending blood to the peripheries of the body , e.g. my left wrist.

If you are thinking of taking relaxation classes, let me know. I do know quite a bit about different methods. The one that might work for you is the “tense your muscles and then relax them” one (it works for me too; I just don’t use it as mine are easier for me). Or yoga classes, so long as you check that the teacher belongs to a recognised school and tells people not to push themselves; and leaves a lot of time for relaxation; and lets you sit there if you don’t want to try a particular movement. T’Ai Chi might be even better. (If you like walking, that can be just as good. It depends. I lose myself in walking: it turned out I’d been relaxing that way all along. I do get worse if I can’t take walks.)

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