fitness massage RSI

Muscle knots from repetitive motions

RunningI 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.

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Do 45% of Irish Workers have RSI?

IrelandIn an article entitled “Forty-five per cent of workers have suffered from RSI” published in There is a reference to a survey –

” … by,  Enable Ireland and Assistive Technology Training specialists asked more than 1,000 employees about how comfortable they were as they work.”

OK, this was a smallish survey of 1000 employed individuals in Ireland, but perhaps it provides  a glimpse into how widespread Repetitive Strain Injuries actually are in the workplace. The findings showed that –

“… workers now typically spend from two to more than six hours seated at work, typing at the computer or on the phone. Of the 45pc who have experienced RSI symptoms, the back was the most affected area, followed by the neck, wrist and hand. Arms and shoulders were also seen as problem areas. More than half of survey respondents said they only suffered from mild discomfort, but 44pc said it was painful enough for them to be aware of it. Four per cent described their RSI symptoms as “extremely painful.” ”

I have suspected for a long time that a larger percentage of workers than officially register an RSI do actually suffer from mild forms of RSI quite frequently. They are, however, perhaps just trying to deal with the symptoms themselves and are reluctant to appear like they are complaining to their employers about anything that may impact their job security or the perception of their ability to work.

Note: Despite searching for the actual survey results from  Enable Ireland, I can’t find an original source for it. If anyone has a link, please drop me a comment.

I did however come across this very useful looking document titled “A Tool For Everyone” about RSI for employers and managers on Enable Ireland website, which does reference a 45 percent figure, just not the survey I was looking for!

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Trigger point therapy for RSI progress report – 6 weeks

UpdateOK, time for a progress report on trigger point therapy, its been six weeks since I started to do some trigger point massage. Have I seen some improvements? Yes. Has my RSI pain improved? Yes!  Has my RSI gone? Not yet!

Trigger point therapy, as discussed previously in my post “Does forearm extensor trigger point massage offer a potential cure for RSI?”, is a method of massaging trigger points (muscle knots) that refer their pain elsewhere eg forearm extensors into hands and fingers.

Before starting Trigger Point Massage it is essential to understand the anatomy of the forearm muscles and what they do, where they form muscle knots and where they refer pain to, and as discussed in a previous post, the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook is a great place to start with this understanding.

Weeks 1/2

The first two weeks were mainly spent in a lot of pain, easily finding extremely sore trigger point muscles of the forearm extensor groups. I had exceptionally sore areas in the Extensor Carpal Radialis Longus, Extensor Carpal Radialus Brevis and the Extensor Digitorum. Couldn’t find anything going on in the Extensor Indicis despite having had a history of index finger overuse and pain previously.

Massage was done mainly by supported thumb, and knuckles, 3-4 times a day. Excruciating pain was experienced during massage from many of these trigger point areas, and as such can lead to a reluctance to continue, however I just had to keep saying to myself  “this muscle is sore and it shouldn’t be”, grit my teeth and keep massaging!

Most of this period was spent in continual pain from the massage. It is a recurring theme with trigger point massage. Your arms spend a large portion of time in pain from the massage as well as the RSI condition. So there is very little opportunity to asses any progress. I reckoned, however, that if I am massaging sore tissue then that must be a good thing!

Weeks 3/4

As the sore extensor muscles recovered from their intensive massaging of the previous weeks, the forearm felt less painful, but it was a gradual process. Sometimes taking a day or two off of massage treatments helps, just to give the arms time to recover and to allow you to assess progress. I had massaged out the eye-wateringly sore extensors, but there was some deeper down trigger points in lower muscle  tissues to try to access, as well as a persistent ache at the point where the extensors attach to the elbow. I also found a sore trigger point in my Extensor Carpi Ulnaris, which I subsequently found massaging can lead to a nerve type pain down the outer edge of the hand wrist and  little finger, which wasn’t good, and is something to be wary of. If you are trying trigger point therapy yourself, please be careful not to massage nerves!

I have used my thumb for massaging, but as stated in the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, extended use of heavy pressure with the thumbs alone can lead to sore thumbs pretty quickly and as such is not advised.  The book recommends the use of balls eg tennis balls (or denser rubber ones) to roll your arm muscles against beside a wall. They also recommend a ‘Knobble’ which is a hardish object that you can grip with a knobbly protrusion which can be used as a pressure point for massage. I have generally just used my hands (knuckles and supported thumb) and a beach pebble (with smooth rounded edges) for massage through a fleece top, and both have worked quite well, although its very tempting to resort to using the thumbs which really should be avoided!

Weeks 5/6

After massaging out most of the extensor trigger point (muscle knots), I still have sensitive tissue areas around the elbow where the extensors attach, and this area is still being worked on. After a suggestion from James of How I Overcame RSI I also checked the inner forearm muscle called the Brachioradialis which is a muscle on the inner side of the arm that attaches to the lower end of the upper arm, and is used to bend the elbow. Under this is a smaller muscle called the Supinator which turns the hand palm side up. Much to my surprise, I found trigger points in both of these especially at the points close to the elbow/lower upper arm. The book suggests that trigger points here can refer pain to the thumb area as well as the inner forearm, but James also indicated that in his experience they also referred pain to much of the forearm too. I also found a small trigger point on the Brachialis (bicep) of the right arm, and have massaged it too. The Trigger Point Therapy book says that this point can refer pain to the thumb.


Progress is actually a difficult thing to asses on an ongoing basis. As I have mentioned before this is because you are in quite a lot of  pain from the massage for a large part of trigger point therapy. You literally spend a lot of time massaging, and even after the sorest muscles are less sore, there are still a lot of aches around and you are still stressing the forearm muscles with massage. The only real way to assess progress is to take a two/three day halt in proceedings, and see how they are. I’ve done this a couple of times, and yes the arm muscle pain of RSI does seem to be improving, it’s just not gone yet!

I am, however, very encouraged by the less screamingly sore muscles in my forearms, and am tending to focus on secondary areas now. I still feel pain from typing and mouse use, but much less intense than before, which must be a good thing. How sore the pain would be after a more demanding day of computer use is another question altogether though!

There are also other potential areas according to the Trigger Point Workbook that can refer pain to the arms and hands, including the Scalenes (shoulder neck area) and Triceps (back of upper arms), so more investigation of these areas for trigger points is required. I also am doing a lot of deep probing of the forearm extensors and finding a lot of  trigger points down there, which are very hard to reach and even harder to massage on a continual basis. Some of these small painful muscle fibres appear to be narrower than a fingers width and as soon as you get a finger on them to do massage they disappear to the left or right of your massaging finger before you get the opportunity to truly massage them, very frustrating!

I should also add in that I am doing some wrist rotations to work the extensor muscles in a fluid motion using a weight of about 1kg, and am also doing some work with a Powerball in slow motion.

I will continue to update on my progress here as therapy progresses, although I am at this stage very encouraged by Trigger Point Therapy as a potential solution!

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The many forms of RSI

Speedcubing - a potential cause for RSIIn this blog, I have focused substantially on RSIs associated with computer and mobile device usage, specifically wrist and arm injuries. Of course, there are many other types of injury that can result from occupational overuse, whether you are a programmer, a checkout assistant or a chainsaw operator. Injuries are not confined to work of course, but can also result from leisure pursuits such as piano playing, golf, tennis, running or even Rubik’s cubing! Examples of the types of conditions that can be caused by such activities are: tennis and golfer’s elbow, thoracic outlet syndrome, De Quervain syndrome, as well as the more classic carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome.

Repetitive activities, including computer use, can adversely affect more than just the wrist, hands and arms, but also the neck and shoulders. Some years ago, my wife developed a constant and debilitating shoulder problem on her right side. At the end of each day in the office, her shoulder would ache such that the muscles would feel as if they were exhausted. Being right-handed, the most obvious association was with her computer mouse, yet it was apparent that this type of large-muscle ache would most probably not be addressed by using a different, more ergonomic mouse. It wasn’t until she moved jobs and her new desk included a drop down keyboard and mouse tray that the shoulder injury disappeared. Simply lowering the mouse pad had solved the problem. Even today, should she momentarily use a laptop and external mouse on a table top, for example, the shoulder issue will recur.

In addition, the range of occupations potentially affected by RSIs is wide. On several occasions now, I have encountered checkout cashiers wearing tell-tale arm braces which I instantly recognise  as probably indicating an RSI. I have chatted to such individuals and, indeed, they inform me that the repetitive motion of swiping products in front of the barcode scanner has caused their injury. I have recently heard of a tree surgeon having to scale back workload due to pain in his arms from the constant overhead operation of a chainsaw.

Examples of occupations at high risk of RSIs include:

  • Journalists, programmers, software engineers – anyone using a computer to do their job
  • Construction workers
  • Checkout cashiers
  • Production assembly line workers
  • Machine operators
  • Postal sorting workers

Sometimes it is not necessarily repetitive motion that is at fault, but holding the same position for hours on end. For example, many neck problems develop after possibly years of bad posture and/or inadequate breaks whilst staring at a computer screen, or performing any occupation that involves looking downwards (eg a jeweller). Even sleeping is not without hazard, if you are in the habit of lying on your front with your head to one side for example.

Of course, the key words here include “repetitive”, “overuse” and “habit”. The same principles apply in addressing these conditions:

  • Awareness
  • Good ergonomics
  • Adaptive software or hardware (this can include anything from computer mice to chairs to running shoes!)
  • Adequate breaks
  • Improvement of posture
  • Therapeutic exercise such as yoga, pilates etc
  • Avoidance, if necessary

So, regardless of whether you are at work or play, upon experiencing the first twinges of pain, it is time to become aware of the cause and to address them accordingly. The choice is yours – you can make the necessary adjustments to your work or leisure habits now, or be forced to give them up entirely later.

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New RSI Frequenty Asked Questions (FAQ) Page

rsi_faq_mdI am happy to announce the release of my latest update to this site, a Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Frequently Ask Questions (FAQ) page along with answers! This is basically a download of information from my head as to my understanding of RSI, along with relevant links and information, and is without doubt the largest information release I’ve done on this site. Hopefully you will find this useful. Please feel free to comment and share.

Ergonomics RSI

Bio Feedback as a tool to combat RSI

Bio Feedback, is a method of measuring an individual’s stresses by monitoring muscle tension, sweat gland behaviour, heart rate etc. It is a non-invasive, non-medical process, designed to raise the awareness of the subject to how their body is reacting to their working environment.

Previously, while living in the US, I was sent for Bio Feedback monitoring, and was ‘hooked up’ to many electrode pads around my neck, shoulders, and arms. These were to be used to measure muscle tension in all the upper body limbs including the neck and shoulder area.  The sensors are connected to a computer which plots out the associated muscle tensions on a monitor, so you have real time visualisation of the various muscle tensions you hold in your upper body when operating computer equipment. You are actually seated in front of a real keyboard and mouse, and asked to type and enter data like you normally would in your daily life.

I was actually quite surprised at how much tension the signals showed, and was constantly told to relax the posture to drop the tension levels – not an easy task!

I had to really try to relax my whole body from my head to neck to shoulders to arms to wrist angle to make even the slightest difference. The difficulty was trying to hold it there whilst typing and using a mouse.

Emphasis was placed on relaxing muscles that control the upper limbs, as well as suggestions on how to become more relaxed in the mind both inside and outside of the office environment.

As with other RSI awareness education therapies, there was no magic bullet for me with Bio Feedback, but it certainly helped to raise my awareness of how tense my upper body limbs (including shoulders) became while operating computer equipment, and that really is an important part of the RSI education process.

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Career commentary Ergonomics RSI

Too young to be taught about RSI?

There is a  revealing quote from Dan Odell (Microsoft‘s in-house ergonomist), in an article titled ‘Elementary Ergonomics’ from ‘T.H.E’ by Jennifer Grayson . He states that –

“There is a growing awareness of how much of an impact there is on students. A lot of the ergonomists I work with at different companies have been noticing that students are graduating from college and coming into the workforce already with chronic repetitive strain-injury problems. It seems at least from the anecdotal stuff that it’s important to start focusing more on the student population.”

This could unfortunately be the start of the RSI epidemic wave that I have long been expecting. The younger generation coming through universities and colleges of further education are the ones that have been exposed to ‘technology’ since they were born and have grown up accustomed to a hi-tech life full of computers, mobile phones, gaming systems and other ‘daily use’ gadgets in complete ignorance of the danger that they pose. They are the generation that have grown up with an ever expanding level of text messaging.

What this generation does not appreciate are the dangers associated with RSI type conditions and their implications for future employment (and earnings) prospects. I also wonder whether employers realise the risks of employing people with these conditions, especially into computer intensive jobs. It may not be too far in the future before employers start to check for these conditions during a pre hiring medical examination, although it may be hard to diagnose without honesty from the potential employee.

What is obvious to me is that ergonomic and RSI health awareness training currently aimed solely at employed adults has to be brought into schools, colleges and universities also to educate the future employees before they succumb to a debilitating RSI condition when they start their employed adult life.

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Breaking the RSI Pain Cycle

Breaking the RSI Pain CycleThe RSI pain cycle is the cycle of pain that a RSI sufferer can be locked into with their condition. The first diagram on the right (click image to enlarge) should allow a sufferer to understand the underlying mechanisms of the RSI pain cycle and realise that there may not be one single ‘magic bullet’ to address the RSI pain.

The RSI pain cycle once ‘locked’ into is a hard one to break free from. The common mistake is to address only one or two factors. If the sufferer is at an early stage of RSI, and is fortunate then one change eg ergonomic setup may be enough to break free, but any medium/long term sufferer who is trapped in this cycle should consider addressing most/all of the underlying trigger causes to allow the transition to an RSI free life. The second diagram (click image to enlarge) shows the key areas to address to break the cycle.Breaking The RSI Pain Cycle

You can also download the 2 diagrams in Breaking The RSI Pain Cycle (pdf)

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Video Games and RSI

Games ControllerAn interesting article appeared in the Times Online titled  “Doctors identify ‘PlayStation palm’ as a legitimate medical complaint” which takes a broad look at how more and more types of repetitive strain injuries originating from use of video gaming machines are being discovered. It should be noted that a ‘video gaming machine’ can encompass the set-top box variety, a full-sized PC or indeed a miniature hand held device, the only difference being the types of repetitive motion that the users engage in order to interact.

It should also be noted that video gaming is a highly addictive pastime (I speak from the experience of my youth). Video games are designed to be addictive; let’s face it, if they were not, players would rapidly lose interest and move onto something else, and the manufacturers would not sell many games.

There are usually very high levels of

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Yoga as a tool to combat RSI

YogaDuring my RSI awareness presentations I refer to the need for people at risk of RSI as well as those who already experience its effects to adopt physical activities. Yoga is one of those activities that I suggest. Why yoga?

In a nutshell, it combines a fairly physical activity encompassing muscle and tendon stretches from your head to your toes, with core conditioning and balance practices. This is coupled with controlled breathing techniques to allow the participant to focus their mind on the present moment. As well as the physical practice, yoga teaches techniques to promote deep relaxation and the ability to clear everyday thoughts from the mind with meditation. This powerful combination really can address a lot of the factors that lead to conditions like RSI (primarily driven by the overused micro-movements of muscles and tendons coupled with bad ergonomics and stressful working conditions).