A Systemic Approach to Workplace Injury
Thursday, January 1, 1998

Section: The Workplace

Workplace injuries, particularly those brought about by repetitive activities such as assembly line work or computer keyboarding, can be highly complex and multifaceted phenomena.

The way we conceptualize an injury has a strong influence on how we think about dealing with it. Indeed, even the act of labeling it as an injury can introduce a strong bias in how we think about it. The Feldenkrais Method® helps prevent workplace injuries and facilitate their healing when they do occur.

Feldenkrais® practitioner Ralph Strauch, author of Low-Stress Computing: Using Awareness to Avoid RSI, believes that it is important to understand how the Feldenkrais conceptual perspective differs from that of the medical profession.

"The medical perspective," says Ralph, who practices in Pacific Palisades, California, "focuses on the localized injury as a pathology at a particular site in the body. This leads to diagnoses such as tendonitis (an inflamed tendon), carpal tunnel syndrome (a narrowing of the passageway through the wrist known as the carpal tunnel), or a nerve impingement occurring at some particular location along the nerve's pathway. Localized treatment is then applies to the pathology, through measures such as drugs to reduce inflammation or surgery to correct mechanical damage."

On the other hand, the Feldenkrais perspective attends to the more systemic patterns of muscular organization and body use which produce the stresses eading to and maintaining injury. The Feldenkrais practitioner does not attempt to treat the localized injury. (Indeed, most practitioners have no medical training, and are not authorized to provide medical treatment.) Instead, he helps through teaching you to become more aware of how you use your body, and to learn easier and more efficient ways of functioning.

When you go to see a Feldenkrais practitioner about a painful hand and wrist, he may surprise you by beginning to work with your ribcage and your spine. When the pain is in your wrist, this may not make sense from a medical perspective. The practitioner may have observed, however, that you sit hunched forward with your spine bent and your torso rigid. This posture leads to extra effort in your shoulders and arms, and on down into your hands and wrists. The hand is where the problem "popped out," but its source lies nearer the core of your body.

"Learning to maintain a more supple ribcage," says Ralph, "will help you become more aware of how you support your torso when you sit. This, in turn, can facilitate greater awareness of and less tension in your spine, shoulders and arms. You then put less unnecessary tension into your wrists and hands as you work."

"By working with the underlying patterns which produced the injury rather than with the injury itself, the practitioner has initiated a process of change which goes far beyond reducing the pain in your hand."
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