Often RSI sufferers will be referred by their doctor for physical therapy, which in my experience can range from ‘wonderful’ to ‘complete waste of time’ depending on the experience and attention of the physiotherapist. The most wonderful physical therapy treatment I received for RSI was when living (and working) in Silicon Valley in California. I believe physiotherapists out there were more used to seeing cases of computer related injuries what with the region being the heart of the high tech industry. What did they do that helped with the pain relief so much? Treatments included –
- hot wax heating of the hands (you would be surprised how cold hands and arms get in air conditioned buildings)
- massage of the hands
- deep tissue massage of the forearm muscles
- ultrasound of the forearm muscles
- TENS stimulation of the arm nerves
- hot and cold contrast baths
- splints to minimise wrist deflection
- computer mouse modifications with stick-on foam to make them more comfortable to use
- pleasant demeanour of staff (made the visit that more enjoyable)
This compared with more lacklustre treatments in the past, where I received 5 minutes of ultrasound treatment followed by ‘here’s a splint to wear’. There’s a lot of knowledge to share in this regard by the physiotherapy profession, and hopefully in time that knowledge will propagate.
Physical therapy initially managed to get me back from the brink of not being able to work to being able to to work for a period of 18 months, before the symptoms started ratcheting upward again. The second round of physical therapy wasn’t as beneficial, I had tipped over the treatable ‘cliff edge’. Many times I would return from a physiotherapy session pain free and relaxed, only to jump back onto the computer that had worsened the symptoms, and within hours, be back in severe pain again. This was the problem in my experience with physical therapy. It was like being able to take a nice big pain relief tablet, only for it’s effects to wear off in a few hours.
The fact is that physical therapy can’t help cure your ergonomic problems; only you, armed with the correct knowledge, can do that. Physical therapy is however a great way to get symptomatic pain relief.
I did take something from the physical therapy treatment though. It taught me how much of my problem was down to ultra tight and possibly deformed forearm muscles. It also led me to being able to temporarily relieve the pain myself at home by using a combination of an arm massaging device, a TENS machine and hot and cold contrast baths on the forearms. This process was admittedly time consuming, but it did give me some much needed temporary pain relief.
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