What is Repetitive Strain Injury?

acupuncture for repetitive strain injuryRepetitive strain injury, commonly known as RSI, is a musculoskeletal disorder which results from repetitive activity, usually at work. RSI can affect any part of the upper limbs, from the neck right down to the fingers. The elbows, shoulders and the wrists are all areas commonly affected by RSI.

RSI happens when the tendons or muscles become inflamed or damaged due to repetitive movements over time. Trapped nerves can also be caused by RSI. The most common symptoms include:
  • Aching or pain in the affected area
  • Stiff joints
  • Throbbing, tingling, numbness or weakness
  • Cramp


Traditional Chinese Medicine for Repetitive Strain Injury

According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theory, painful conditions such as RSI happen when the circulation of qi or blood is blocked.

Qi and blood are two vital substances, which together warm, nourish and protect your entire body. Good health depends on qi and blood being allowed to flow freely, in order to reach every organ, tissue and cell.

When you repeat an activity over and over, this can disrupt the flow of qi and blood. Imagine drinking something through a straw. If you bend the straw once or twice, it should easily spring back into shape, allowing your drink to be sucked up. But if you bend it in the same place again and again, it becomes harder for the fluid to pass through. Eventually the straw will become weak and break, so nothing will get through at all.

This simple analogy explains what is happening to your qi and blood when you have RSI. Unable to circulate as they should, they accumulate in one area causing pain, stiffness and other RSI symptoms.

Qi and blood are closely related. Qi is more yang and provides movement, whereas blood is more yin and provides nourishment.

Because qi is more yang than blood, it is lighter and moves more quickly. This means that it is often the first to get stuck. In TCM, this condition is known as ???qi stagnation.???

Because qi is also responsible for moving blood, if qi stagnation is left untreated, it can lead blood to become stuck too. This is known as ???blood stasis???.

Both qi stagnation and blood stasis can cause pain, but there are some important differences:


Qi Stagnation

Blood Stasis

Pain moves from place to place

Pain is fixed in one area

Pain is relieved by movement, pressure and heat

Pain is worsened by movement, pressure and heat

Swelling may come and go

Swelling is present all the time

No redness, heat or bruising

Possible redness, heat or bruising


Treating Repetitive Strain Injury with Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM offers a number of different ways to treat RSI. One of the most popular is acupuncture. Acupuncture uses fine needles to restore the free flow of qi and blood to relieve symptoms such as pain. From a scientific perspective, acupuncture is known to work in a number of different ways:

  • Blocks pain signals by affecting the central nervous system
  • Triggers the release of endorphins, your body's natural painkillers
  • Relaxes the muscles
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Improves circulation

acu_on_shoulderIf you have other symptoms elsewhere in your body, this could also be a result of qi stagnation or blood stasis. It is also possible that you could have an underlying condition which is causing your circulation to be more sluggish.

Acupuncture may be given in the local area, where you are experiencing the pain, and/or other places according to any other symptoms you may have. The aim of treatment is to restore the free flow of qi and blood and rectify any deeper imbalances if necessary.

Your TCM practitioner may also recommend exercises or stretches to help relieve your RSI symptoms, and give advice about ways to improve your posture and lifestyle.


How to Prevent Repetitive Strain Injury

Although TCM can successfully relieve your RSI symptoms, there are also many things you can do to reduce your risk of developing RSI in the first place:

If you work at a desk, ensure it is set up so that your shoulders, wrists and elbows are in a comfortable position

  • Type using both hands and keep your wrists straight
  • Take regular breaks to get up, move around and stretch
  • Wear protective clothing if using machinery or tools
  • Warm up properly before any physical exercise
  • Rest regularly during workouts
  • Try pilates, yoga or tai chi to improve your posture, balance and flexibility

By making these  lifestyle changes, you will be helping your qi and blood to flow freely, reducing the risk of RSI and keeping your body healthy and free from pain.

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