Let’s Talk About Repetitive Strain Injuries

By Muriel Bartol

Today is Repetitive Strain Injury Awareness Day.

While you’re probably not reading this from your spot on an assembly line where you’re doing the same movement over and over again, office work (and even scrolling the ‘gram) can lead to stress injuries that can cause major issues down the road. The same can be said for activities like cycling or hiking. Or, if you’re like Matt, you could lift a beer to your face enough times to cause tennis elbow.

While we don’t purport to be healthcare experts, we do have our fair share of experience dealing with these injuries (along with the blunt force trauma of crashes, thank you very much) and we’ve found that what works for us in treating these injuries is acupuncture. Yeah, we don’t understand why it works either, but we have found it works for us. Our acupuncturist, Jay Palladino, specializes in Sports Medicine and incorporates both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Sports Medicine practices and we’ve found this combination works exceptionally well for us.

You know when you were a kid and whenever you brushed your hair you would just do one or two quick swipes at the top, and weeks or months later when an adult would brush it for some special occasion you would discover an ungodly nest of a knot at the nape of your neck? That's kind of what happens with your muscle fibers when they're not properly stretched and taken care of. 

Repetitive strain injuries (and a lot of other injuries) are essentially neuromuscular issues. Acupuncture addresses the "neuro" part, getting all the nerves traversing your body to fire correctly and in the right order. Western Sports Medicine focuses on the "muscular" problems; all those gnarly knots that need "brushing out" and the fascia surrounding those muscles.

In a typical session with Jay he'll diagnose what is going on from your symptoms and a few quick strength tests, "needle" you to stimulate the neurons, and finish up by working your muscles. You would think needles going into your body all over an inch deep would be painful, but you can barely feel those. But wait until he digs into those knots! It hurts so good. Usually after a session we're a little tired out, which is totally normal. It's also really important to drink plenty of water afterward, you'll have a lot of blood flow into muscle and fascia that have been too tight to allow it, and they need to be properly hydrated.

Apart from addressing our neuromuscular problems, he is utterly fascinating to talk to, the depth and breadth of his knowledge is astounding. So we thought we would ask him a few questions about repetitive strain injuries and share our findings with you. Feel free to pretend you were there with us and take a field trip of the imagination.

Jay, what is the best way to prevent repetitive strain injuries?
The best way to prevent a repetitive injury is to be mindful of how your body moves (or doesn’t) the whole day. Most people think their ‘movement’ comes from the hour or so they spend at the gym or doing their activity/ exercise. But the positions you spend most of your day in (car, desk, etc.) form and influence how your joints and tissues move and the amount of load they can safely handle. When your brain perceives that the load on your tissue is too much or too often thats what forms a repetitive injury. So try and make sure your body gets as much movement variability as you can provide it each day. When you have to stay in one position for long periods of time take frequent breaks (every hour) and move your body in a way that is opposite from the position you where just in.  There’s a saying in my field when we are asked what’s the best position to do (fill in the blank), we say ‘the best position is the NEXT position’.

What is the best method of stretching?
I think the best method for stretching, especially prior to activity, is dynamic stretching. There are many great examples of this on youtube. It's my favorite because when done correctly it preps your body for movements you are about to do in your exercise/activity. The benefits being: actively taking your joints carefully through the full range of motion, increasing blood flow to your tissues and working on your balance at the same time. 

What should be our first response to such an injury?
I feel the first response to a non traumatic injury should be to not freak out. Increasing our stress response just makes things worse. The first thing I tell my patients who are in a ton of pain is: ‘pain does not equal tissue damage’. Meaning your brain will turn on the pain response to protect an area, almost always before tissue damage has be done. So just because you're in a lot of pain does not mean you have done permanent damage. Sometimes just knowing that can ease the pain response. After the first pain response, be gentler with your activity and don’t push through the pain, but don’t use it as an excuse to stay on the couch either. Find safe movements to do so your body can feel stronger without the threat of further injury. 

What kind of long-term care should we expect for such an injury?
When asked about long term care I can hit upon all the big ones: proper movement, proper hydration, clean eating, plenty of sleep, etc., but what I feel gets ignored in our go-go society is: just be present and really feel what its like to move your body (without thinking of a million different things you need to do). Take the time to really enjoy it, it is such an amazing gift. Don’t do exercise you dread and find ways to destress your life. Like is said above, stress is a threat to your nervous system so the more stress you feel in your body the higher chance you have of developing an injury/pain. Find ways you love to move your body and do them often. Oh yeah, and remember to breathe. 

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To find out more about Jay and his practice, you can visit his office websites here and here.

To find an acupuncturist near you that specializes in Sports Medicine, this directory is a great place to start.