Tai Chi for RSI

Sunday Life 31/1/10
What’s the alternative?
Each week, our team of alternative health experts answer your questions.
By Caitlin Chang.

I’ve been suffering from RSI and my doctor has suggested trying massage as an additional treatment. How can it help?

Jonathan Hanlon, Chinese medicine practitioner, says: Repetitive strain injury – RSI – is an occupational injury that happens through either a repetitive action or doing an action incorrectly. It usually occurs in the arm or the shoulder and the most common symptom is pain, which can be characterised by either an aching feeling or a burning or shooting pain. Some RSI sufferers can also experience numbness or a mild tremor. Combined, these symptoms can make tasks where you grip and turn things, such as opening doors, difficult.

There’s also some debate about whether RSI is an inflammatory condition or if it’s caused by soft tissue damage. I tend to find it’s soft tissue damage. The repetitive movement causes low-level but repeated trauma to the muscles, which can lead to tiny tears and internal scarring on your muscles.

As a Chinese medicine practitioner, I look at the flow of energy in the body. With RSI, the repetitive movement disrupts the way energy flows through your body. If you have areas of the body that are not getting enough energy, they become weak, and if you have areas where the energy can’t flow through, and there’s too much pressure in the area, it causes pain and stiffness.

It’s important you rest from any activity that causes you pain. From a work perspective, it often means you need to change the way you do your job and take frequent breaks. Your occupational health and safety officer can offer strategies to help with this, such as making sure your desk is in the right ergonomic position or that you use an ergonomic mouse.

Massage can also be used to treat RSI and if your pain is not too bad, you can try this yourself. I recommend using Tiger Balm ointment. Massage this into the area that is sore and the surrounding tissue. Tiger Balm comes in two varieties, white and red. If your pain from your RSI is a burning feeling, use the white balm. If it’s not burning, use the red balm, which is a lot stronger and quite hot. Many sufferers also benefit from yoga and tai chi but let your instructor know that you have an RSI problem first.

Email your questions to This column provides an alternative health view only. Please do not disregard seeing your GP for any condition mentioned.