What is Repetitive Strain Injury?
Repetitive strain injury, RSI for short, is a common condition which results from repetitive overuse of a particular joint. It is often work-related, but can also be caused by sports or hobbies which require you to perform the same action over and over again.
When a joint is frequently used in the same way, this can eventually lead to inflammation, stiffness and pain. This is especially likely to happen if you do not have the right equipment for the task in hand, or if you have incorrect technique or posture.
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theory, inflammation and the symptoms of RSI can be attributed to what is known as qi stagnation. Qi is one of the vital substances of TCM. It is needed to provide nourishment, warmth, and protection for the entire body. Qi is said to circulate around the body in long channels called meridians. These can be compared to rivers, carrying qi back and forth between the organs deep within your body and the furthest reaches of your fingertips and toes.
As qi travels on its journey through the meridians, it has to navigate the complex anatomy of the joints. Even narrow joints such as the wrists have as many as six meridians passing through them, meaning that space can be tight. At these points, qi can easily get stuck, like a wide river trying to squeeze under a narrow bridge. At these bottlenecks, qi can begin to collect in the area leading to swelling, loss of mobility, aching, and pain.
When a particular joint is overused, this situation becomes even more likely as the meridians are repeatedly squeezed and squashed over time. If qi stagnation is not treated, it can eventually begin to affect the circulation of the blood too. Blood stasis can cause pain which is even more severe and difficult to treat.
What is Acupressure Massage?
Acupressure (called tui na in Chinese) is a form of massage which is deeply rooted in the principles of TCM. It uses a variety of movements including kneading, rolling, pressing, chopping, and grasping to relax the muscles, improve joint mobility, and improve the circulation of qi and blood.
Tui na can be done with the patient in a sitting or lying position, and the patient usually remains fully clothed. The provider will perform the massage so that the patient feels a firm but comfortable pressure. There may be stiffness in some areas, or tender trigger points. However, tui na should not be painful, so let your provider know if you are uncomfortable at any time. Your massage might be focused on the painful area, but other parts of the body are often included as well. This ensures that qi is flowing freely throughout the whole meridian, and will be less likely to become stuck again.
How does Acupressure Massage Help Repetitive Strain Injury?
Acupressure massage can help to relieve the symptoms of RSI in a number of ways.
RSI is inflammation, and in TCM, inflammation is seen as one and the same as qi stagnation. Therefore the first principle of treatment is to remove any blockages in the meridians and restore the free flow of qi. This will be done by your provider during your tui na sessions, and they may also recommend some exercises for you to do at home between treatments. Your provider will also be able to give you advice about how to improve your posture and working habits to avoid RSI coming back again in the future.
From a western, scientific perspective, tui na can help RSI symptoms by relaxing the muscles in the painful area, improving blood circulation to encourage healing, and reducing inflammation. Many people also find that they feel calmer after a session.
Although you might experience some relief after your first tui na session, it is best to complete a full course of treatment, especially if you have had your issue for a long time. Tui na can be done as a standalone therapy, but it is often combined with acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, or herbal medicine to further enhance its effects.