Repetetive Strain Injury (RSI) is an umbrella term which covers a variety of conditions associated with accumulated trauma caused by repeated actions and frequently sustained awkward positions. RSI often occurs in the hand, wrist, shoulder and neck, and is a common modern problem because of computer use. Over the years I have seen many people with RSI and had some success in alleviating the symptoms. Rolfing can help in three main ways.
1. By improving the posture – in some cases this can be the main problem as slouching at the desk, holding the head forward etc. can create strain in the neck, shoulder, arm and hand.
2. By directly treating the local structures related to the problem area – e.g. by doing focused work on releasing strain in the wrist or tension in the extensor compartment at the outside of the elbow.
3. By increasing awareness of good postural habits while at the computer and encouraging clients to switch to better postural habits at the computer.
Here is an example of how Rolfing can help. This article is about my client Deanna Miller. It is by Lisa Grainger and appeared in the Alternatives – Body and Soul section in The Times, Saturday, May 22nd, 2004:
When the sensation of raindrops hitting her skin made Deanna Miller cry one summer’s day in 1999, she knew she could no longer deal with the pain in her arms. Miller, a civil servant was suffering from RSI (repetitive strain injury). “It was excruciating,” she says.” At its worst, I had stabbing pains down my arms, all the way across my shoulders and into my neck, often 24 hours a day.” Miller had first started to feel pain after a three-week stretch of inputting computer data at work seven hours a day, five days a week. At the end of the third week her arms were aching and by Saturday she had “unbearable pains all the way up my forearms and then by Monday in my shoulders too.” Over the next five years Miller went from being a fit, happy extrovert woman to someone obsessed with her health. “I’d never really thought about it, but RSI, which is caused by repetitive use of the same muscles, took over my life because the pain was always there. I couldn’t sleep because of the shooting spasms up my arms and I became depressed. It also affected my social life.” From being a productive member of staff, Miller was on constant sick leave, sometimes for six months at a time. Mostly, she’d lie in bed and try to rest because any exertion was agony. Or she would read health books on “anything that might help me, from acupuncture to healthy eating.” Her GP had prescribed anti-inflammatories, which reduced the swelling in her arms for a week. Six months later she tried physiotherapy, which inflamed her muscles further, resulting in more weeks off work. A year later she tried acupuncture, which had little effect. A visit to a chiropractor helped only a little, “mainly by advising me to put ice packs on my shoulders to reduce the swelling.” At work, her employers provided her with an assistant three hours a day, as well as a voice-activated programme so she could speak into her computer and her telephone — the consequence of her taking them to court for not giving her regular desk and computer assessments in accordance with the 1992 Display Screen Equipment Act passed by the European Union. However Miller’s breakthrough came when she read a book by an American helicopter pilot, Richard Rossiter, whose shoulders had been so painful he could no longer fly — until he tried Rolfing: a series of deep massage manipulations, which works on the myofascial system, the soft connective tissue between muscles. Intrigued, she contacted the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration in January 2003 and was put in touch with Alan Richardson, a Certified Rolfer. “I was so desperate that when Alan asked me how I was I just broke down and cried”, she admits. “I couldn’t keep up the bravery any longer.” After looking at Miller’s posture and muscle position, and finding out about painful movements, Richardson set to work. Over 10 sessions, once every fortnight, he slowly massaged the muscles and fascia on her body, starting at the feet and legs on the first session and working up to the head and arms by the seventh. The point, he stresses, is to align a different block of the body each week, “until, like building blocks, they are in one long line without any obvious unnecessary tension,” Over-stressed points in the muscles’ fascia, he says, are like “flies in a Spider’s web pulling in opposite directions, straining the structure.” His task is to soften the fascia by friction and manipulation, then to stretch it so that the muscles can realign themselves in their natural positions. “When muscles are out of balance, they can feel pain in all sorts of places,” he says. “The tense muscles in Deanna’s arms meant that her shoulders were out of alignment and had frozen. Rolfing was able to reduce the compression in her whole body, so that her shoulders went back and the pain was reduced there.” In addition, he tried to teach Miller new ways of moving—for example, using her entire arm rather than just her wrist for some task—which he says freed ” a significant amount of energy previously held in overworked muscles.” Since finishing her ten treatments, Miller has felt no pain in any part of her body. “Unlike all the other doctors, Alan treated it like a mechanical problem, rather than a chemical one, and it worked a treat,” she says happily. ” I haven’t had a day off for six months and I feel great.” Her confidence , however is still very low after years of pain, so she is wary of activity that might affect her muscles again. She goes back to Richardson occasionally for “top-up” sessions when she feels her muscles becoming tense. “I had begun to think I would never get better again”, she says. “But having gone from being a 95% cripple on Prozac, anti-inflammatories and sleeping tablets to being a 50% cripple on no medication at all, he has given me hope.”