RSI: Recovery is Possible
Thursday, March 30, 2017
by: Cliff Smyth, MS, Feldenkrais Practitioner

Section: Recovery




The way we take action in the world affects our lives in significant and profound ways. Our habits can include the ability to move with great ease and comfort. Unfortunately, our habitual patterns of movement and perception can also lead to injury and pain. Repetitive strain injury (RSI) can be viewed from this perspective: as the result of accumulated injury and pain arising from the kinds of movements required of us in our lives – along with the way we make those movements. Thinking in this way about these kinds of injuries also offers hope for successful prevention and rehabilitation.

What is RSI? 
Repetitive Strain Injuries are commonly experienced as aching, pain, fatigue or heaviness, coldness, weakness, numbness and tingling and loss of proprioception (sense of the part of the body in space) in the hands, wrists, elbows, arms, shoulders, and neck. They are usually associated with activities that involve repetitive movements such as typing, use of hand tools (scissors, knives, pliers, wire cutters, etc), assembly, production, or processing work. They can also occur in the feet and legs (eg. among athletes and people using equipment with foot pedals).
 
How can Feldenkrais lessons help? 
The Feldenkrais Method can provide you with essential tools that will help you prevent and recover from these injuries through:
  • promoting good self-use
  • discovering proportional movement and effort
  • reducing habitual effort
  • developing your awareness of habits and new movement possibilities
  • increasing sensory and motor precision
  • using awareness to help you choose improvement.

Movement is good for you 
Activity increases blood flow and uses up physical energy mobilized by our responses to stressful situations. One way to combat the effects of static loading on the muscles of the legs, back, shoulders and arms is to have enough movement in our lives. Feldenkrais lessons can help you become more aware of how you can move with less pain and greater comfort and awareness. It can help you work, enjoy your everyday activities, exercise, and live more easily.
 
Good self-use 
For a well-balanced body, it is possible for much of the force of the weight of the body to be supported by the bones of the skeleton. If the skeleton is well aligned and moves to support our limbs as we move, there will be less strain on the muscles. However, if we lift our arms - without a suitable response in the pelvis, spine and ribs - then there will be extra strain in the shoulders and arms.
 
Proportional movement and effort 
It is also important that the right muscles do the right work at the right time. The big muscles should do the big work (say of positioning the arms), while the small muscles do the small work (say fine movements of the hands, wrists and lower arms for manipulation and expression). As people work long hours, become fatigued and work in awkward postures, they begin to call on (recruit) muscles to do work that they are not meant to (e.g. using the muscles of the neck and back of the forearms to lift the hands to the keyboard). Feldenkrais  lessons can help you feel how the different parts of yourself are called into action to form a movement of your whole self.
 
Habitual effort 
We often retain that muscular work in our hands and arms when we are not working. I often notice my clients with RSIs initially lie on my Feldenkrais table with their hands in fists or with the hand flattened and the fingers splayed – either way they are not really resting their arms and hands! Finding how to really rest in between activities, is essential to preventing and recovering from these kinds of injuries.
  
Choosing improvement and using awareness 
All Feldenkrais lessons make use of the inherent ability of our nervous systems to sense ourselves and our environment – and directly use this information to learn how to move in new ways. Improvement comes in two ways:
  • our nervous systems choosing and directly learning ways of moving that are more efficient, less effortful, and less painful and
  • conscious awareness of our movement habits and options.

Moshe Feldenkrais often said, 'If you know what you are doing, you can do what you want'. It would be impossible to be consciously aware of every part of our selves at all times, but discovering the ability to shift our attention is a vital tool for discovering how we do move ­ and how we could move better.
 
Self-image in action 
Moshe Feldenkrais wrote that we have a dynamic self-image that changes as we act and develops over time. For him, every action was composed of 'thinking, moving, sensing and feeling' in all their forms, and separable only in language and not in reality. A final and essential piece to preventing and recovering from RSI type injuries is to ask ourselves about our self-image. What do our hands and arms mean to us? How do we feel about what we are doing in our lives? How attached are we to our jobs – or how trapped do we feel? What choices do we have in how we respond to our activity in life? How we could improve what we do and how we do it? It is very important to be open to reflect on the direction of your life, your occupation, and habits of attention, body and mind. The Feldenkrais Method can contribute to this process in many ways – from noticing what you are really doing and how it actually feels, to feeling you have choices to do things differently.

Copyright ©, Cliff Smyth, 2007 and 2017

This article has been edited for SenseAbility
. Read the entire piece here.

Cliff Smyth practices Feldenkrais Method at the Feldenkrais Center for Movement & Awareness in San Francisco. He has a MS in Mind-Body Medicine, and is currently completing his PhD. He teaches
somatics at Saybrook and San Francisco State Universities, and and mind-body skills at the Osher Center at UCSF.

Smyth recorded a series of Awareness Through Movement lessons entitled "Easy Hands and Arms" which have helped many people suffering from RSI injuries.
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