My latest forearm extensor RSI rehab effort

homedics massager

Homedics massager

As you will know from reading this blog, I have had a chronic RSI condition in my forearms for over 14 years. I live with it by avoiding computer use as much as possible. Whilst resigned to having this condition long term,  I am always looking at ways to try to rehabilitate it somehow. Usually when things get more painful I resort to digging out an old, vigorous Homedics massager that I bought in the US. It’s a heavy duty one that is probably more designed for deep tissue massage of the back and neck, however, it can and is used by me to reach deep into the forearm extensor muscles for a relieving massage (although you have to be careful not to overdo it). This usually takes the pain down to background levels, at least temporarily.

The massager is, however, still only treating the symptoms of the RSI. What I really need is to try to strengthen the forearm muscles to an extent where they can resume being normal muscles tissue again (as opposed to the knotted, tense mass that is there right now). I have always drawn a blank as to how to do this.

NSD Power Ball gyroscope

I recently came across a friend with a NSD PowerBall Gyroscope (which I’d seen plenty of advertisements for but hadn’t got round to trying out), and my curiosity got the better of me. Amongst its claims is that it can be used as a “Rehabilitation product bringing gentle non-impact relief  to Carpal Tunnel syndrome (CTS), Repetitive strain injury (RSI), tendinitis, arthritis, and all wrist related ailments. Spinning for just five to seven minutes per day is enough to start your rehab!”.  Lofty claims indeed! I was keen to get my own Power Ball and get started!

The units are actually quite inexpensive (less than £10 for the basic model). The more expensive ones have electronic counters in them so you can count rotations and gyroscope speed RPM, which I decided was superfluous to my requirements. My NSD Power Ball arrived in a few days from Amazon and I ripped the package open with great enthusiasm and interest, as well as much hope!

The theory behind the Power Ball is that spinning the gyroscope inside the ball offers a resistance to motion of the ball. Spinning  the gyroscope is started by means of a short piece of string (or alternatively by means of an additional electric base unit at extra cost). Rotation of the ball with the hand/wrist keeps the gyroscope running and maintains resistance. The gyroscope, when in motion, will actually start to produce a gentle whirring sound. The faster the hand/wrist rotation, the faster the gyroscope spins and the more resistance the ball offers and vice versa. The resistance that you encounter is therefore  controllable in infinite degrees, and can be tailored to your own needs (or degrees of injury) which is useful.

Gripmaster

What I have found thus far (after about 1 week’s use) is that it is a really good way of getting the forearm extensors exercised in an aerobic manner (as opposed to the continuous micro movements that computer keyboard/mouse input dictates, which can lead to RSI conditions). I can honestly say that I have never felt the forearm muscles heat up as much, which is surely a good thing (I can sense blood rushing into them, which will hopefully be good to promote healing).  I am also coupling this with using a medium/low strength Gripmaster hand exerciser, and adding in a few forearm stretches too. I am keeping this routine to 2 to 3 x 10 to 15 minute timeslots each day. I realise that it’s important not to overdo it!

Having had such a long term injury, I am under no illusions as to the uphill battle I face to rehabilitate it, and it’s still too early to assess the long term benefits of using the Power Ball Gyroscope with a forearm extensor RSI injury such as mine, but so far I haven’t needed to use the big massager for forearm extensor pain relief again which is a good sign! I will report back here after more prolonged use to let you know how things are working out. I at least have a little hope to cling on to for now!

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17 comments

  1. Della says:

    Thankyou for your posts. I believe that this is the condition that I have but it has not been diagnosed yet (I have an appointment next month for an evaluation). I have had this pain in my forearms for 15-20 yrs and I have believed it to be carpal tunnel. It is debilitating. It is the reason that I never finnished my accounting degree and have been very limited in the type of employment that I can find. I don’t do a lot of typing (and never have) but that is when it flares up. I can type for less than 5 minutes before the pain brings me close to tears. The only relief for the pain after only a few minutes of typing is to put my hands in a flexed position with palm side of hands turned into the forearms. When you say that your condition is very progressed and possibly untreatable and may never improve, is yours worse than what I am describing? Is surgery a treatment option? Have stretches helped? How did I get this bad? I have never done a lot of typing or anything repetive enough to cause this.
    I appreciate any comments you might have.
    Thank you
    Della

  2. alanf says:

    Hi Della,

    sorry to hear about your potential RSI. As well as the more traditional RSI pain from forearm tension, I also have an unpredictable right wrist which I think produces symptoms similar to carpal tunnel. Nerve conduction studies haven’t shown carpel tunnel, but occasionally I get a really sore (nerve like pain) right wrist. It happened originally due to bad work ergonomics. (I had a mouse on the desk close to the edge, and my wrist was balancing on the edge of the desk). I also suspect too much lateral movement of the wrist when typing. The only relief I get is to strap it up in a wrist brace for a day or two until whatever it it calms down. I have not had a proper diagnosis for this symptom, so I’d say for sure surgery isn’t an option. For carpal tunnel condition (properly diagnosed) surgery is an option, but I have encountered people in life who have had success as well as complete failure with the surgery so the decision should not be taken lightly. Stretches help to make the arm muscles and tendons feel better (short term) and if done daily maybe even long term. My condition got this bad due to repetitive computer work, day in day out for 10+ years. Most RSI conditions are a result of this, but onset can be quick in a bad ergonomic situation. If your circumstances are different then it may not be RSI so you will need to try to find a doctor to give you a diagnosis, and good luck with that.

    Alan

  3. Jo says:

    Hi Alan,
    Your condition sounds so similar to mine so it has been good to read what you have tried. I have had this condition since 2007 and have tried many treatments. I still seem to have quite a few flare ups which are rather hard to deal with.
    Do you also get shoulder and face pain? I find that when my forearm and hand have been in substantial pain my shoulder, neck and face tend to “sieze up”, from muscle tension I’m presuming.

    Jo

  4. alanf says:

    Hi Jo,

    2007 doesn’t seems quite short a time for such a chronic condition. The face pain sounds strange, I haven’t heard face pain as a symptom of RSI.
    Eye strain maybe, but face pain I’m not so sure about. I’d get a doctors opinion if I were you. I don’t get shoulder pain, but my wife used to when using a computer she switched to a drop down keyboard tray and the shoulder pain went away.

    Alan

  5. Justin says:

    Alan,

    Sorry to see what has happened to you, but I thank you for sharing your thoughts with us here. It’s a tough place to be in, I’ve just developed moderate to severe forearm pain in the past 2.5 months. I’m going into the doctor in two days to have my first visit. Have you ever looked into SmartNav? Any reviews you know of. I’m looking forward to your review of the gyroball as well.

    Thanks,
    Justin

  6. alanf says:

    Hi Justin,

    If you have just developed pain and you have read this blog then you will have a good chance of getting rid of the RSI (assuming that that is what the pain is). It’s important to catch the condition early. Haven’t tried SmartNav yet. From their website I see that it involves tracing a dot on your hat or head or hand. What you have to realise is that using such a system will obviously dramatically reduce hand / arm movement (except for typing of course, which also is a main source of pain for me!) but it may also (depending on your job type) make your neck and shoulders start to ache or perhaps even ultimately develop an RSI if used for such small micro movements all the time. I still maintain that the best option is a mixture of input devices, although my own personal favourite is the Contour Rollermouse.

    Alan

  7. Justin says:

    Yeah, I’ve begun to run the guantlet as far as input devices. I’ve tried joystick mice, regular mice & even the evoluent. Nothing has worked well for me. I have a moderate case of tennis elbow in my primary mousing hand (right hand) and what feels like the onset of tendonitis in my left arm. I’ve had issues with my right hand for over 2.5 years, but only now has it actually become painful. I hope its not to late, although I do fear it is. I’ll report back what the doc says shortly.

  8. alanf says:

    Hi Justin,

    Sorry to hear that your condition is worsening. Tendonitis is apparently accompanied by swelling of tendon. I was told this when I thought I had tendonitis, but apparently didn’t. The medical world is a minefield (or is it a vacuum?) with RSI, hope you find someone who is knowledgeable. I have often been compared to having Tennis Elbow like symptoms in the forearm extensors. My belief is that the tight/damaged forearm extensors drive a lot of the pain down the tendons and into the hands. Every time I massage the extensor muscles I feel temporarily better. Its also important to do stretches as you are probably aware. I link to some good ones on the side bar links section of the site.

    Hope you find a solution.
    Alan

  9. Justin says:

    So far, so good. The doctor believes its all muscle related in my forearms. I’ve been prescribed 4 weeks of anti-inflammatory’s & physical therapy to stretch & strengthen my forearm extensor muscles. I’m somewhat relieved, but I want to see it work before I’ll feel better. I’ve been in constant pain for 3 months, and what’s worse is thinking about it almost every waking moment of the day.

    I’ve went ahead and ordered the Contour Rollermouse Free after reading reviews and watching videos. At the least I can get away from clicking one mouse and mousing with the other.

    Have a great weekend Alan
    Justin

  10. alanf says:

    Hi Justin,

    glad to hear you got a diagnosis. Hope the physio works out. Forearm extensors are widely fatigued by using what I term ‘the claw‘ when typing. Make sure you don’t keep doing this otherwise physiotherapy will not be a long term benefit.
    You wont regret getting the Roller mouse.

    Good luck.
    Alan

  11. Justin says:

    Definitely not out of the woods yet, but I’m feeling ok. Once I receive the Contour Rollermouse I’ll attempt to switch to the keyboard tray I have. Right now I don’t use it because it doesn’t work with my workaround mouse setup. I’m hoping the combo of the keyboard tray, rollermouse, 2 weeks off for the holidays, therapy, & anti-inflammatories give me a great jump start to recovery. I’ve sent the stretching exercises to my wife who while not as bad as me is experiencing similar problems.

    Have a great weekend!

  12. Justin says:

    Just wanted to report back. Received my rollermouse on Friday and today is the first day I’ve had it at work. So far, its working better than anything I’ve had. Unfortunately, I’m still in a good bit of pain. My forearms have not progressed thru therapy as I had hoped, and the anti-inflammatories are only masking the pain. Unfortunately, things don’t look too positive right now. I’ll continue with therapy and stretching & strengthening.

    Not only do I have tennis elbow, but I also have flexor tightness (bottom of forearm) and brachiradialis strain. My arms are a mess!

  13. alanf says:

    Sounds like you do have problems with your arms. You are reminding me of my experience. Its as tough loop to get into ( ie. the work/physio one.) see my post on the pain cycle and how to break it. What is your job as a matter of interest?

  14. Justin says:

    Yeah, I’m almost at my wits end to be honest. I’ve done everything I can to help myself at work. I can’t hold anything at home past a coffee cup in weight and it seems to be getting worse. On your cycle chart, honestly, the only one I could say I haven’t done yet is receive a proper ergo setup, which I’m now close to achieving.

    I’m hoping and praying with close to two weeks off, intensive rehab will put me on the right track. Otherwise, the dark unknown looms. Its weird, only 2.5-3 months ago I could do pretty much anything normally, now I’m severely limited in almost everything I do. As a consequence, its all I really think about as well, which just makes it that much worse.

    Thanks for all the tips, here’s to hoping things get better.

  15. alanf says:

    Sorry to hear that Justin. There is a psychological element. For me it’s about 80% physical problem and 20% psychological. The fear of being in pain is enough to cause you to tense up your body at the sight of a keyboard which triggers the pained/damaged muscles. There’s no easy answer to that, but you do need to try to keep the stress at bay, it doesn’t help that’s for sure.
    Good luck with your quest.

  16. Gerry says:

    Hi Justin. Have you tried windows seven speech recognition? I’ve just developed the same forearm problem and I’m starting to use the windows seven speech recognition(comes with it for free). It works pretty good for some things for sure. As a programmer, I can’t use it for everything, but for stuff like this (typing this) it works extremely well.

    I’m in the middle of setting up my ergonomics workspace and diagnosing my problem. Meanwhile I’m using massage and rest to try and treat this. But I’m cheating by using the speech recognition for a few things.

    Now. Who wants to give me some advice? My forearms are extremely weak feeling. I definitely do the claw. But it hasn’t been a problem for 10 years(as a programmer). But in the past four weeks I’ve developed extreme fatigue in both forearms. It feels like I’ve been working out for 2 hours straight. And hand movements to grasp things is awkward. Feels like my hands are cramping up. But if I rest them they (hands) feel better. But my forearms don’t seem to be getting better. They just feel exhausted.

    Anyone care to help me diagnose my problem? My Dr. doesn’t think its CTS. Also, if I take a muscle relaxer it really helps. So that leads me to believe that this is a muscle problem.

    I’ve tried the thumb press and definitely get pain there. But I pressed on my wife’s arm in the same place and it hurts her too. So I’m not sure.

  17. unarmed says:

    I have had wrist problems with symptoms similar to Carpal Tunnel/RSI for the past three years.

    Through my research experience, this is what i have learned:

    Physical therapy is the best way to treat this problem.

    More often then not, the problem doesn’t stem from the carpal tunnel, but from a nerve in the neck and shoulder area being pinched by the spinal cord. Just think how many computer users complain of carpal tunnel. Sure they are repeating the same hand motions over and over, but they ofter are hunched over in a bad position for the back.

    So to be sure, treat both possible scenarios with physical therapy.

    Spine:
    Look for exercises online to correct your posture. Also learn how to correctly position yourself while walking and sitting.

    Carpal Tunnel:

    Avoid the activities which are causing you problems as much as possible. When typing, take breaks every hour to stretch out your hands. Do do daily exercises to build the strength in the hand that are opposite to motion you have having problems with. Search tensor/flexor hand exorcises.

    I have also reading that eating Vitamin B6 is beneficial.

    —-

    As for the powerball, any updates?

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