So - what is it? Essentially it is an injury caused by repeated and repetitive motions, so that muscles, tendons and joints are under a constant strain. The strain and motions themselves may not be very much on their own, but the accumulation of the constant repetitious movement it what leads to the aching, the pain and the loss of strength associated with RSI.
- I developed RSI during my first year studying at LIPA (Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts). It was March 2006, and I was heading to the equipment bunker returning some microphones after a band practice, when a friend of mine, who was working there, introduced me to a Norwegian girl with the statement, "Ah! Here's Lydia now, she can help you!" - It turns out that a group of students were in the middle of a production of 'The Last Five Years' (by Jason Robert Brown) for a 3rd Year performance, and their Musical Director had been taken ill and had to drop out…. 10 days before the show went up. I, in my 19 yr-old naivety said, "Sure! I can help you with that." I then proceeded to spend approximately 8 hours a day (minimum) over the next week and a half trying my damnedest to learn the piano score, learn how to conduct whilst playing the piano score, rehearse with the actors, band and production team AND somehow continue doing all my other uni work/practices and the like. It's safe to say this production, although thoroughly rewarding, was one of the most emotionally draining and physically demanding things I've ever done, and took me to my breaking point (I think I counted three separate times I was on the brink of tears…. and one where I actually did cry - but only in the privacy of my own bedroom) - but what I didn't expect was the aftermath: this horrible aching setting into my wrists, an aching that 1 week after the show run finished was still there…
- A long story short, my piano teacher put me on 'performance rest' for 4 weeks, and showed me a selection of stretches to help ease out the tension. 'Performance rest' was actually easier than I anticipated, but only because it fell over the Easter Holidays, 1 week of which I was spending at a student drama festival, and another in a villa in Spain (where there wasn't a piano in sight for either place) - it made it harder to not practice, what with summer term assessment coming up, but I followed his advice, and the problem seemed to correct itself - at least so I thought….
|JRB's L5Y.... Sounds amazing.... hurts like hell!|
From my research I've deduced a few things.
- A repetitive strain injury (RSI) is an injury to the musculoskeletal and nervous systems that may be caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, or sustained or awkward positions. It's a bit of an umbrella term that covers various similar ailments (like carpal tunnel, or tennis elbow etc.) RSI is also pretty common: with the advancement in technology and the majority of people working with a computer, RSI seems to afflict a significant chunk of people. - Unfortunately, I find that almost all of the information I come across is geared towards computer users experiencing RSI, and sometimes athletes, but not musicians so much. Some of the information is useful, granted, but I'm still hunting for more 'music-specific' RSI treatment information - That being said, I've come across a fair few options that I'm using right now and would recommend:
1) Physiotherapy: My physio works on my neck, upper back and forearms, and also uses ultrasound and interferential (electro-therapy) to help alleviate my symptoms - I've also done my own research on things my physio called, "Trigger Points" - essentially the muscles that are responsible for my wrist pain are actually not anywhere near my wrist - the link below is really useful for sussing these trigger point out:
My physio (and university piano teacher) have shown me a variety of stretches for the neck, arms, wrists and fingers that all help improve the tensions (and if done regularly are preventative) - The link below shows some good stretches:
There's also a lot of evidence that certain exercises that strengthen the back, shoulders and arms greatly reduce the issue of RSI, for example Swimming or Yoga - however, I've yet to find the time to go swimming (which I do actually enjoy), or do yoga..... so watch this space on that one!
|It's such a shame dayglo-pink isn't my colour...|
4) Wrist Warmers: My RSI feels so much worse in cold weather (probably due to restricted circulation), so I try and wear gloves and wrist/arm warmers as much as possible (and I find them a somewhat stylish way of covering an unsightly wrist support). The better your circulation, the better your body works - simple science really when you think about it.
5) TENS Machine - This little gadget works in a similar way to the interferential treament my physio gives me. It sends electrical pulses into your muscles via sticky pads placed directly over the sore points: it can feel really weird, but I find it's great at loosening up tense muscles - when used in conjunction with 'trigger points' I find this can really help improve RSI, and lessen the amount of times I need to visit the physio (which my wallet is very appreciative of).
6) Ibruprofen Gel: I find this the quickest way to get pain relief to my muscles. Ibruprofen pills help too (make sure not to use them at the same time), but I find the gel targets the area quicker. Also, you can gently massage the inflicted area as you rub the gel in for a double whammy of relief.
|Exotic fruit... or healing super food?....|
- B vitamins: (found in avocado, bananas, nuts and various other foods)
- Bromelain (found in pineapple and grapefruit)
- Vitamin C: (found in citrus fruits)
- Omega 3's: (found in fish oils and flax seeds)
- Glucosamine (supplement for joint pain)