I have been running more and more over the last three years for fitness purposes as well as for the prevention of middle age weight creep. It has been an interesting journey and one that forces you to analyse a lot of your associated aches and pains on a continual basis. Firstly, you try to identify and resolve them before they can manifest themselves into something more sinister and become a long term injury.
Running, especially longer distance road running, is a very repetitive exercise, with the same cadence, same stride and same motion again and again. This repetitive motion often leads to localised tight spots (knots) in the muscles that are doing all the repetitive work. I have found very sore tight muscle ‘knots’ in the calves, quads, hamstrings, and gluteal region. These points can be very painful in themselves or can refer pain to other areas. This can often curtail running activity until they are addressed. Addressing muscle ‘knots’ is done via massage. Self massage can be done, and quite often it is useful to target certain areas with a foam roller or in the case of the hamstring by sitting down whilst laying the hamstring on top of a lacrosse ball with the leg extended. Usually massage treatment can sort the tight spot very quickly and allow me to go back and run again within 24 to 48 hours.
The reason that I bring the running example into the discussion is that running as a repetitive motion can be used as an analogy for daily keyboard or mouse use, which involves constant repetitive motions of the hands and forearms for hours at a time. We are letting our hands and forearms do the equivalent of a long distance run every day, producing the same type of muscle knots in the forearm that runners experience in their legs. The muscle knots in the forearms then refer the pain via the tight tendons down into the hands and fingers causing the referred pain that we are all familiar with and call RSI. It is only through awareness, self treatment and education that we can learn how to prevent RSI from becoming a long term, debilitating problem.
Occasionally you come across something that just makes sense, and after receiving an email from James, a fellow RSI sufferer, with a link to his website ‘How I Overcame RSI’, I had a whole new set of data to analyse and compare. The thing that was interesting was that James as well as having a shoulder RSI to deal with, also had a similar condition to mine with overused forearm extensor muscles.
I have long been aware of the fact that I have overused forearm extensor muscles, and have documented this extensively on this site. What I haven’t been able to understand over the years was how to get these muscles to perform as muscles again or, indeed, if they ever would. I have frequently used short term massage techniques with the extensor muscles to get very temporary relief from bad forearm pain, but the benefits from this massage have never lasted beyond a day or so.
I guess my understanding of forearm muscles has not been what it should be. This lack of awareness was not helped by a previous consultation with a ‘RSI’ doctor (10 years ago in US) who told me that he didn’t know whether my arm muscles would ever act as normal muscles again, hence I have been very pessimistic about ever finding a cure. Massage from physiotherapists (including deep tissue massage) has also only been of limited success, although admittedly amounted to perhaps only a handful of 15 minute sessions.
So it is with this background that I read James’ website article, which gives a very detailed account of what he found out on his journey of RSI discovery. He has done a lot of the groundwork for us all, and for this we should be grateful. He has spent a lot of his own money on various treatments, and has clearly documented what worked and what didn’t work for him. What was enlightening was the fact that most of his learnings on RSI corroborated my thoughts on the subject too. So his insights immediately grabbed my attention.
What was most resonant with me was that James had managed to cure himself of a bad case of RSI simply by dedicated massage techniques and Powerball use alone. His techniques were based on ‘Trigger Point’ therapy, which, to cut a long story short, means that there are trigger points (muscle knots) in your forearm tissue which create referred pain elsewhere, for example, in your hands. These trigger points can each be identified and massaged out using dedicated (up to 6 times daily) and sustained massage over a period of 1 to 2 months. The massage is best self administered since the chances of being able to see a physiotherapist 6 times a day for two months would, I suspect, be zero! Keep in mind that you are also the person best suited to knowing where in your forearm actually hurts!
He recommended reading ‘The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook’ by Clair Davies, which provides self help for trigger point massage. I have purchased a copy of this book, and I too will pass on a big recommendation for anyone suffering from RSI. It really should be mandatory reading by every RSI sufferer, as well as every doctor and physiotherapist. It is one of the best books I have come across that describes RSI trigger points, along with individual muscle diagrams and very readable descriptions of the muscle functions. It also includes descriptions and diagrams of where those trigger points are located and where to expect referred pain. Basically, you look up where you have pain, and it tells you why and what to do. Although the book covers the forearms and hands, it is not limited in scope ie it covers the entire body, and may be of much use to anyone with any other aches and pains!
In my case it is the first time I have been able to identify individual forearm muscles their function, and the stresses that are placed on those muscles when using a computer. I have now started with (1 week) of self treated trigger point therapy (massage) and will report back here with regular updates. I have identified a lot of very very sore to massage trigger points in both my forearms!
Its difficult to assess effectiveness in the first week, as most of the week is spent literally in eye watering pain massaging the very painful knots in the muscles, and the tense ache of after massage muscles which naturally occurs. However after 7 days of this therapy some of the excruciatingly sore knots are less painful now when I rub them, so I have a lot of hope!
Will keep you all posted on my progress.
Many thanks to James for doing all the research, as well as sharing his findings.
Its the first time in ages I’ve felt slightly positive about my RSI condition.