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Thursday, 18 June 2009

Shoulder pain

This is how RSI builds up: by doing the same movements many times
whether you click or wave your arm around.


   The other day my mum’s friend complained of a dull but nagging pain in her right shoulder she’s had for ages and is seriously impairing quality of life for her, as well as her performance at work, which, in turn, is a source of constant friction with her boss. She blames it on working long hours on a computer (she is right-handed) as it hurts most when she is sitting at her desk, so she has to resort to painkillers (that are harmful to kidneys or stomach) almost every day.

She’s tried every possible therapy, taken a lot of pills, but nothing has managed to help so far. Doctors told her that her cartilage had worn down and she was going to need an operation on her shoulder sooner or later. Actually, two more women have recently told me about the same problem, in both cases they slave away on a computer and the hand they usually hold a mouse in is affected.

As a matter of fact I myself have noticed that muscles in the palm of my hand become tense if I use a mouse for a long while (click, click...), then the tension gradually goes up my arm and reaches the shoulder, but I feel relief as soon as I switch to pen tablet because a different group of muscles gets involved.

There is perhaps one inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the above evidence: the cumulative effects of keeping the same, most probably bad posture, doing the same movements many times and therefore tensing the same group of muscles for years add up to either cartilage damage or an inflamed nerve and consequently cause a shoulder pain.
This medical condition is known as RSI (repetitive strain injury) and much as the symptoms are treated, the simple logic says they won’t disappear unless you remove the cause.

All things considered, I suggested that the three women switch from mouse to pen tablet­ or just alternate them and also change their posture as often as possible — holding a pen puts much less strain on the hand and shoulder. They started trying it, and now it looks like they are improving. It is certainly true that the damage can’t be undone, but at least it won’t get worse.
My mum’s friend wonders why none of the doctors she’s consulted have ever mentioned this option to her, well, you know, doctors are expected to promote medicines, not computer devices.

By the way, it turned out that pulling the hand firmly but gently for a few minutes provides an immediate pain relief for a while.

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