How do you fix repetitive strain injuries and overuse injuries?


If you’ve been told you have a repetitive strain injury (RSI), you may have been told that rest is the only way to fix your problem. Often, repetitive strain injuries go by the name of tendonitis or tendonosis. When your pain is in the hands and wrists, you may be told you have carpal tunnel syndrome or thoracic outlet syndrome.

In this article, we’re going to talk about perspective shift that can help you get rid of your repetitive strain injury, no matter what it’s been called. 

Watch this video for a quick summary of repetitive strain injuries.


Conventional Medical Treatments for RSI

If you’ve been to a doctor for your repetitive strain injury, you already know the protocol.

Rest. Ice. Pain killers. R.I.P. - the standard medical recipe for aches and pains.

This is the approach that the medical industry strongly recommended for decades for back pain before finally realizing that rest, ice, and pain killers for back pain actually made things worse. (American College of Physicians).

The new recommendation for back pain is to learn how to use and exercise your back properly. And then gradually train your back to be stronger and stronger.


An Effective Alternative Approach to Fixing RSI

The same approach works for repetitive strain injuries in the hands and wrists.

We had a client at Upright Health who had a nagging “tendonitis” issue diagnosed in her forearm and wrist. She went to a hand/wrist specialist who told her that she had overused her forearm tendons. The prescription: rest for 3 months.

After 3 months, the wrist and forearm still hurt (worse at night) and still felt unstable.

The prescription? More rest.

She had two options at this point.

1) Rest her wrist and forearm more. After 3 months, this had resulted in no improvement.
2) Exercise her wrist and forearm more. Though this was counter to the doctor’s recommendation, it was something she hadn’t tried.

So we decided to follow option 2.

After a few days of doing consistent wrist and forearm exercises, her wrist and forearm felt more stable and less painful.

After a few weeks, the pain was gone. 


Should you exercise more if you have a repetitive strain injury? 

I personally suffered for years with diagnosed repetitive strain injuries in my hands and wrists. I kept trying to use the rest, ice, and pain killer approach, but it left me debilitated, agitated, frustrated - and with an upset stomach.

Even if the pain abated during periods of rest, the pain would always come back as soon as I started to type, play cards, or do anything requiring fine motor skills.

Exercise is what got me relief - and eventually my life back.

If you’re dealing with a long-standing repetitive strain injury, the question to ask yourself is simply: is rest actually helping?

If the answer is no, then you may want to consider going with option 2. 


"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."


Exercises for Repetitive Strain Injuries to the Hands and Wrists (When Rest Doesn't Work)

The first thing to do is ensure you have addressed the foundation of proper forearm function - your upper spine position. This may seem irrelevant, but a hunchback can drastically affect blood flow and nerve transmission into your hands.

Hunchback posture closes off the space under the collar bone, choking off flow to your forearms, wrists, hands, and fingers! 

Once you’ve done that as a warmup, you can then work on more specific hand and wrist exercises to pump blood back into your hands, wrists, and forearms. 

Here you'll find a couple different ways to work your hands, wrists, and forearms. 

For me constant exercise/movement was and is a crucial piece of the puzzle. As my forearms and hands atrophied from doctor-recommended constant rest, they ached more and more.

Giving them much needed exercise was and is an important part of keeping them feeling good.

This phenomenon shouldn’t actually be surprising, since any body part starved of blood will atrophy and send you painful signals of an impending problem. 

And finally, this one sums up the exercises I find most helpful for wrist pain from repetitive strain from typing on a keyboard all day. 


Exercise Frequency to Fix Repetitive Strain

Whichever exercises you choose, remember that there's no magic number of sets and reps that applies to EVERY person. Start with some guidelines and adjust based on how your body responds. 

When you're just starting out with any of these exercises, do 1-2 sets, and do them 2-4 times a week. Remember that SLOW IS SAFE AND FAST IS FOOLISH. If you push yourself too hard too fast, you'll just end up sore and/or injured. 

Over time, you may discover you need to do the exercises more frequently to keep your hands, wrists, or whatever body part feeling good. I know when I'm on the computer a lot, I need to do wrist and forearm exercises almost every day to keep blood pumping well into all my forearm and finger muscles. 


Repetitive Strain Injury Wrap Up

The nagging pain of a repetitive strain injury can sap your brain power and make your days drag.

If constant rest, ice, and pills don’t give you relief, then that may not be the strategy for you. 

Learning how to safely and gradually exercise your aching parts may be just the thing that brings you your life back.

After all, you either use it, or you lose it. ūüôā

Train your body to be more flexible, strong, and resilient! 

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