Preventing and Recovering from RSI
Exercise for Computer Athletes
"If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself," jazz great Eubie Blake allegedly remarked. Many injured computer users likely feel the same way.
If you type for as little as two hours a day, you're at risk for a repetitive strain injury (RSI). If you don't exercise, you seriously compound your risk. However, your activity must be matched to your particular injury, and exercising the wrong way can do more harm than good. It's a sticky situation, but there are some general guidelines to exercising properly. Before you jump into any regimen, discuss the details with a competent physician or rehabilitation therapist, especially if you have RSI.
Exercise the Right Way
Most computer users don't think of themselves as athletes, but computing is strenuous activity. One physician I know compares it to laying bricks.You need to be in top condition to avoid injuries.
Intelligent athletes know they must keep their bodies conditioned for sports. They do sports-specific training for the muscles they use while playing and cross-train to avoid overusing any one muscle group. They know that injury can result if one muscle group is stronger than its opposing group. They understand that flexibility and strength must work together. They warm up before they begin to exercise; they cool down afterward. If they become injured, they stop, rest, and rehabilitate the injured muscle, which may have weakened, before they go back to the game. After time off, they return to the activity gradually.
Computer athletes must do all of the above to stay in shape, yet few of us realize this. All too frequently, our back muscles are lax from slouching forward, and our pectoral muscles are too tight. We may not have the strength to hold our hands in the proper positions. And we're setting ourselves up for injury.
The Best Program for You
Many readers have recommended favorite forms of exercise, such as yoga and tai chi chuan. The best kind of exercise is one you enjoy. If you're having fun, you'll be more likely to stick to the program.
In general, your program should include strengthening, stretching, and cardiovascular training. It shouldn't be a killer routine. For instance, you could work out using elastic bands or weight machines with light resistance three times a week and go for a brisk walk for 20 to 40 minutes three or four times a week. Consistency counts. If you exercise sporadically, you risk soreness and injury and won't make the kind of progress you will achieve with a steady regimen.
When people with RSI discover their muscles are weak, they often start squeezing rubber balls and doing wrist curls, both of which can aggravate an existing injury. The muscles and tendons of the forearm need rest, not further strain. Instead, your exercise program should focus on strengthening the muscles in your back (rhomboidei, mid-trapezius, anterior serratus, and latissimus dorsi) and stretching the chest and neck muscles (pectoralis and scalenes). Keeping these muscles in proper balance helps them operate more efficiently.
A good exercise program also works all of the body's major muscle groups. If you develop a hand or arm injury, you'll be surprised at how much the legs have to pick up the slack.
Exercise Good Sense
Start slowly, especially if you're already injured. Some RSI sufferers are so gung ho to get better that they cause additional injury to themselves by overdoing their exercise programs. And make sure an exercise won't complicate your injury. Certain weight machines require a firm grip, which might strain your hands or forearms. Even adjusting the seat on some machines can tax the strength of a severely injured person.
Avoid heavy handheld weights. People with moderate to severe injuries may need to leave hands entirely out of the picture. A competent physical or occupational therapist can advise you how to do this. And do more repetitions with lighter weights rather than the other way around; you reduce the risk of reinjury this way.
Stay away from activities that require slapping, hitting, or other rough use of the hands, such as volleyball, bowling, or racquet sports. If you have a wrist injury, avoid positions that place weight on the hands, such as push-ups and certain yoga postures. Also avoid headstands, handstands, and shoulder stands. It takes years of training to do these safely. Consult with a reputable instructor, and if an activity hurts, back off.
Be consistent! Sporadic exercise can lead to soreness and injury, especially if you try to do too much. Don't compare yourself to anyone else. Your body is unique, and only you know how you feel. Listen to your body, and don't exceed your own limits. Don't let anyone else push you, either. That "one more rep" may be the one that injures you. After you're warmed up, stretch gently, especially if you have a nerve injury.
Exercise is one of the best methods to protect against and rehabilitate RSI. It's available in some form to everyone free of charge. Unlike some drugs prescribed to treat RSI, exercise has beneficial side effects when done properly. In addition to giving you strength, flexibility, and stamina, this magic elixir will help protect you against diseases of all sorts, from high blood pressure to diabetes. It soothes jangled nerves, helps ensure more restful sleep, and reduces feelings of depression. Aficionados call it the fountain of youth. Yet despite these benefits, most of us don't get enough of it.
As a personal trainer, the number-one protest I hear is, "I don't have time." Yes, you do, and if you don't make time to exercise now, an injury may take even more of your time down the road.
There are other excuses, too: "It makes you sweat." There are many showers in this great nation. "I'm a klutz." Exercise improves coordination. "I hate sports." You have many other choices, including walking.
"I tried it but I got injured." You tried to do too much too fast, or you allowed someone else to push you beyond your limits. Start slowly and pay attention to form for a safe workout. "I'm out of shape and I look terrible." You'll get in shape and look great. "I'm a woman and I don't want to build big muscles." You won't get massive muscles unless you're taking steroids and lifting heavy weights.
Do yourself a favor and start an exercise program today. Eubie Blake's maxim is amusing, but it's also a warning.