Repetitive Strain Injury Resources (RSI) – Workrave, Alexander Technique

Recent weeks have reminded me of one of the reasons I started this guitar blog. My wrists have been aching more than usual due to Repetitive Strain Injury or RSI. It’s not as bad as when I wrote about it way back in Dealing with Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) but nonetheless it’s been a sobering reminder of this problem and its relevance for guitarists. As guitar players, RSI or Repetitive Strain Injury is always a potential risk. Time spent on the computer only adds insult to injury and if you’re reading this blog, it’s probably safe to say you spend your fair share on the World Wide Web. Add a few blistering performances on Guitar Hero and we’re seriously setting ourselves up for pain and suffering. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to help us contend with RSI and I thought I’d share a few of them with you.

Workrave

An excellent way to help mitigate the ravages of working on a computer is the use of short and frequent breaks or “micro breaks” accompanied by periodic longer breaks that include stretching. Luckily, there’s Workrave – a small application which “assists in the recovery and prevention of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).” Fully configurable, “the program frequently alerts you to take micro-pauses, rest breaks and restricts you to your daily limit.” Workrave sits in the Windows System Tray (there is a Linux/UNIX version as well) and based on your reminder settings, pops up and reminds you to take periodic micro-breaks as well as longer rest breaks which include suggested stretches. A number of studies have demonstrated the value of this approach and Workrave delivers this for free. I think it’s a must have for anyone who spends any significant amount of time on the computer.

Workrave.jpg

Alexander Technique

I’ve heard about the Alexander Technique before but the recent article, The Alexander Technique For Musicians and Actors has reminded me that I should look into this whole body approach to dealing with tension and strain. F.M. Alexander, himself an actor, came up with the technique when his “own tension caused him to lose his voice while performing”. For guitarists, this means dealing not only with unnecessary tension while playing guitar but also dealing with the tension that already resides in our muscle memory from every day activities. All in all, it looks like powerful stuff. Thanks to fellow guitar blogger JP from Stratoblogster.blogspot.com for pointing out the article.

For more on dealing with guitar related RSI, see Eight (8) Ways to Combat Repetitive Strain Injury.

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11 Responses to “Repetitive Strain Injury Resources (RSI) – Workrave, Alexander Technique”

  1. I’ve found the Alexander Technique to be, by far, the most effective way of reducing pain and discomfort when playing. They have an excellent website at http://alexandertechnique.com which includes a whole page of useful link to material for musicians. Definitely worth checking out!

    1. Hi Jack! Thanks for the note about the Alexander Technique as well as the link. I’ll be sure to check it out further!

  2. Great article and site. I definitely need to pay more attention to these ergonomic issues than I have been. I guess I don’t play for long enough stints to feel it much. But I must say, I’d never seen the Burrell designs in my local GC!

    1. Hey Guitarblog! Thanks for the comments. Personally, its not so much an issue of playing too long as it is contending with general RSI issues. You’re absolutely right that you won’t see many of the designs on the blog in any store. That’s unfortunate but I hope to bring attention to the matter through this blog and by putting readers in contact with guitar makers that take ergonomics into consideration.

  3. Around 1980-81 I remember reading a news headline in the music press that Rainbow’s Richie Blackmore was suffering from a trapped nerve in his shoulder. This was long before RSI was a popular term in the media. I vaguely remember that he blamed his guitar strap, but I wonder whether there were any more too it…

    I’ve not really followed his career since most of my hair fell out and headbanging was no longer a serious option. I certainly haven’t kept up with the medieval balladeering of Blackmore’s Knight, has there been anything recently about what may have been his misdiagnosed RSI?

    db

  4. Ha ha, Blackmore having RSI? Doubt it. There are too many other things going on with this guy, than for him to blame it on the guitar strap. Talk about uptight.

    Wearing wigs, keeping up with just having to look younger and younger each year, is what occupies his mind today it seems. Never saw that guy smile ever. Maybe he finally does a job on his teeth so he can show his smile in press? :-) :-)

    Blackmore has done so much for modern rock guitar, so I don’t really mind this, but anyway. At some point in your life, certain things just starts to turn more ridiculous each year.

  5. Seriously, going back to Alexander Technique, has anyone tried if there are any ergonomical benefits between STANDIND UP ONLY playing guitar or SITTING DOWN only?

    Which are the most fatigueing?

    Do the distance to the guitar differs when your sitting guitar and standing up?

    Has anyone tried these new special SHOES (yes, special shoes, I am not kidding) that forces you to stand and hold the Alexander technique position. They look just like you ordinary jogging shoes, but forces you to behave and use you natural balance to stand straight up.

    It’s a physiological footwear that’s based on African tribe Massais walking mechanisms. They always walk barefoot and has a natural balance and a stature that forces them to uses muscles to keep them in a very straight posture and stature. And thus, can stand on guard for days on end without getting fatigued. Massai Barefoot Technology it’s called. Whatever it has to do with ergonomic gutar playing beats me, but it sure has to do with Alexandre Technique. And no good for sitting down at all.

    1. I see the ergonomics of sitting vs standing as having different sets of criteria – or at least varying in degrees of importance. And so, I’m not sure one can be classified as better than the other. For example, instrument weight becomes a much greater issue while standing. That 15 lb Les Paul doesn’t take the same toll on you when sitting. On the other hand, balance and positioning become a greater issue (sans strap) while sitting – concerns that to a certain degree can be mitigated by proper strap length and position while standing. Depending on your particular susceptibility to one form of RSI or musculoskeletal disorder, one may be personally better for you.

      I’ve been doing some more research into Alexander Technique and these special shoes sound very interesting, in fact. You’re not pulling our legs are you? :) I’ll have to go take a look. Thanks for the tip!

  6. I am not pulling legs. But straighter posture when standing can help playing, no less. It’s with Alexander technique instead of ergonomic guitar I think. Look for yourself at

    http://www.barefootstudio.co.uk/mbt.shtm

    They’ve got some cool trainers there that would cause some stir around in da’ hood! :-)

    Sorry, for doing a plug around it here. Ergonomic shoewear has been around in various forms for ages. They’re [explicit deleted] expensive though. I do not own any, and have not tried playing guitar standing with them. I know only it will keep my “Alexandre Technique” when walking or standing. I’ve tried them in a shop though. Enough of this let’s get back to ergonomic guitars. :-)

    1. Thanks for the link, Mats – very informative and very unusual footwear! Definitely worth a further look…

  7. the feldenkrais method has helped me approach a variety of dofferent instruments. the practicioner watches me closely playing the thing, then askes a series of questions….the aim is to improve function, using the mechanisms within the body. doing yoga and strength training to optimize the body mind connection also contributes to an injury free playing experience. these are just 2 approaches i have tried, but many classically trained friends have used alexander technique from an early age with good results. so it is worth looking at the body and it’s funtion as well as the instrument. guitars are one of few modern instruments that are made for left handers, so there is some hope…