The RSI Blahs – Can Exercise Help?

A recent post at RSI Hell has the author (who posts under the name “efhell”) struggling to manage their life with Repetitive Strain Injury:

I have still not recovered from RSI, I get numerous flare-ups at completely random intervals. I sometimes think what else have I got to do. I steadily modify my own treatments, increasing and decreasing supplements, exercises of differing types and sleep patterns. Still, when it comes down to it I can’t say that I am cured, that I am like a person without repetitive strain.

In a way I feel like I’m twice the age I am. My body could be that of a 70 year old and my fuzziness and days of cloudy thinking could be easily confused as something that is suffering from early stages of dementia. Still, the GP and NHS can offer nothing for treatment or diagnostic assistance. I am left to do it myself, to try things and be a guinea pig. I’m left without any help what so ever and if I wasn’t for those that I live with, I would be totally screwed on those days I can’t even pick up a kettle on water.

At the moment I am going through a period of discomfort and my head is all over the place. What do I try next, what is left? I don’t know any more.

Wow, sounds like they’re going through a really rough period. Everyone who lives with a chronic condition has those days when everything seems to fall apart, when the struggle seems too much to bear, when the pain and the stress of coping is just soul-crushingly oppressive.

So don’t feel too alone, efhell. We’ve all been there, and periodically revisit this scary and depressing place.

One thing I wondered, as I was reading efhell’s brutally honest and heartbreaking tale, was whether he (or she) was getting enough exercise. The post (of which only an excerpt is shown above) mentions working out with weights, and elsewhere long walks are a frequent topic, but I wonder at their cardiovascular fitness.

Personally, I have found that maintaining a higher level of fitness is important in keeping my RSI at bay. A few years ago I began riding a bicycle, and as I worked my way back into shape over the course of several years, I not only dropped about 25 pounds of weight (which is in itself good for combating RSI), but discovered that simply being fit seemed to help ward off the worst, and it certainly helped keep my mood and energy level up. I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in since my early twenties.

I’m not saying that I’m cured of RSI. If I’m stupid or stubborn, or work too long or too hard or with improper technique, my hands will definitely let me know about it.

Interestingly, in researching the topic, I came up with this:

Some experts have reported that people who are physically fit, including athletes, joggers, and swimmers, have a lower risk for cumulative trauma disorders. Although there is no evidence that exercise can directly improve CTS (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome), a regular exercise regimen using a combination of aerobic and resistance training techniques strengthens the muscles in the shoulders, arms, and back, helps reduce weight, and improves overall health and well-being. In one 2001 study, CTS patients experienced symptom relief and signs of improved nerve conduction after 10 months of participation in an aerobic exercise program. (Such improvements appeared to be due to both weight loss and higher oxygen levels.)

So efhell, if you haven’t tried improving your fitness, give it a go. Start slowly, and build up gradually.

Aerobic fitness may seem to be unrelated to RSI, but I can testify that, at least in my case, it’s seemed to make a big difference.

Randy Rasa

Randy is an engineer/programmer/web designer who has suffered from repetitive strain injury off and on for over a decade.


  1. Exercise is definitely helpful, based on my own experience. Not only does it improve your overall physical well-being, but it helps you beat that feeling of being old, worn out, or “broken,” which is the worst effect of chronic pain and can become a vicious self fullfilling prophecy. There is even some evidence to support the fact that merely convincing yourself that you are strong, healthy and capable can greatly decrease your pain. You can read more about this theory here:

  2. While exercise help some people, it didn’t help me. At one point in my 10-year trial with RSI, I bought a program that promised to “fix” carpal tunnel syndrome with some specific exercises. I did the exercises religiously for a few weeks. While I gained muscle weight, there was no relief whatsoever.

    Much more important was learning how to relax my body. For some people, relaxation comes easily, but not for me. The first massage therapist I ever went to used her thumbs to turn my body off, but she couldn’t repeat the effect when I was able to return some months later.

    After years of wandering, I found a modality which is very effective at removing “trauma” that is stored in the body. This is what is referred to in “cumulative trauma disorder”. This is hugely important to overcoming pain associated with bodily motion.


    James Knochel

  3. I think the “exercise” sounds good in theory BUT what happens if the running or the swimming etc actually cause your RSI to get worse? I have RSI in my arms and I find that if I swim for any normal period of time using my arms they flare up BIG time and if i go running, my arms moving up and down also cause flare ups? Does any1 have other ideas? Would love to hear of it. Thanks Sherid

  4. I was recently told that I might’ve had Lupus, and that I should get the blood test to see if that was the case. Even though I’m better now, the anti-DNA antibodies would still be at an elevated level in my blood. I’ll post back here with the results.

    Lupus is an auto-immune condition, and one symptom is swelling. Lupus is not cured through exercise, or any other single intervention.

    There are as many causes for pain associated with motion as there are people. Some people don’t exercise enough, some don’t get enough magnesium (which is necessary for relaxation), some are too stressed-out due to their job/life/etc. My connective tissues were all twisted up, and I needed a specific types of manipulation, in addition to other interventions.

    -James Knochel

  5. Hi! I’m 20 year old Kate and can’t feel so much as to kind of hate my life right now, despite the wonderful people in it. I’ve not even been properly diagnosed with RSI, but after looking for answers and being tested for all types of auto-immune and viral problems, I’m still stuck wondering what is causing the numbness, tingling, inflammation and stiffness that plagues my upper body every day. I try so hard to look for the answers alone, through superb eating, biking strengthening, distraction, relaxation (which I also find very difficult, since I’m in my first year of university) and thinking happy thoughts…I just feel so tired though when I think that I have my whole life ahead of me and I don’t want it to be one of pain. I lost about 80 pounds within the last 1 1/2 years and then spent 8 months of this time living and working in Germany, which is where I first hurt my foot, which lead to hurt in the other foot, back, shoulders, neck, now arms, forearms, wrists and hands. But it all happened so suddenly-is this common with RSI? All I know is that I’ve gone back to the drawing board and have once again started looking up stretches for my feet and help for RSI-I’m hoping these will keep things tolerable for awhile. How were any of you diagnosed? Through a rhematologist? And is it always going to be so hard to live with? Is there any way to totally cure it, if this is what I have? If any of you have tips, including everything about walking, posture, computer work etc., I would be very grateful for some advice. Thank you,

  6. Hi Kate,
    My thoughts and prayers are with you. We all feel the same things that you describe. You are NOT alone. You are NOT the only person in the world to be going through it.

    I read a very insightful book once that said this…
    Your pain may at this moment may feel like the most awful thing in your life. BUT your pain will not always be there! Pain does not always stay and sometimes pain does not stay in the same way that you feel it now. BE ENCOURAGED! YOUR PAIN WILL CHANGE. IT WILL NOT STAY THE SAME.

    Here are a couple of thoughts I have from my own experience:

    1. Distraction – try and do something during the day and night that you can distract you from constantly thinking about your predicament. Take up something new…attend community classes (if you can just listen). Decide to take a new hobby perhaps. Just pick up something that you may enjoy and run with it as a distraction.

    2. Stop reading all the negative and scary stories on the internet. There are so many of them & they will not help you get through this. If you still wish to research to find out what is wrong…get a friend or family member to do the researching for you…so that they can “filter” all the scary stuff that will only assist you in progressing emotionally downwards. Remember also that the most negative stories are always on the internet because the positive ones are NOT on there. Once people are free of their problem/s they don’t generally come back onto those sites and share the positive outcomes.

    3. (This helped me and maybe worth a try)…I found out after suffering severe RSI and NUMEROUS other health problems…that I was SEVERLY gluten sensitive. This means I was sensitive to eating anything with gluten in it, breads & other certain foods. Having lots of “health problems” with no reason can also be a sign of gluten sensitivity. So maybe get yourself blood tested for celiac disease (this should measure your gluten sensitivity).

    I also stopped eating carbohydrates. I read somewhere once that carbos can sometimes cause issues with RSI & Inflammmation. Once I stopped eating bread, cereal, rice etc…my pain SIGNIFICANTLY dropped!! It worth a shot if you had tried everything else. It worked for me. Now I hv worked my self up to eating smaller portions of carbo’s.

    3. If there is any form of aerobic exercise that you can do – do it! Just a simple walk around the block worked for me. As I have shared above…certain exercises affected me adversly BUT any sort of aerobic exercise will help you mentally and often physically.

    4. Make a decision to no longer think that your life is over or about your “dimsal future” – we have all had these thoughts, but you will be the only one at the end of the day who will be able to pick yourself up from that pit. I dug myself into a very deep pit of anxiety and depression over my pain BUT no-one could actually rescue me…i didn’t realise at the time that the only one who actually can rescue you mentally and emotionally is yourself. Save yourself from going down the pit and stop allowing yourself to think those thoughts…these thoughts all lead to a dark place that gets more and more difficult to get out of the further you get.

    5. Start writing a Thankfulness List. This may sound wierd BUT it works! Start with 5 things you are thankful for in your life & everyday add another person or thing. (The more your mind starts focusing on thankfulness and things that your are thankful for in your life, it shifts the chemistry in the brain – it really does work!). Stick your list up somewhere that you can see.

    I hope you do not mind me sharing my thoughts. They are just my opinion. I will be praying for you.
    and remember…..your pain will NOT be the same forever.


  7. Hi Kate,

    > relaxation (which I also find very difficult,
    > since I’m in my first year of university

    Are you capable of relaxing at all? For many people this is all they need to do, as relaxation is one way to reset the fight-or-flight response. Everyone would benefit from taking time to relax every day.

    > I first hurt my foot, which lead to hurt in the other
    > foot, … But it all happened so suddenly-is this common
    > with RSI?

    I sustained a head injury, which was a sort of “straw that broke the camel’s back”. In my case, “Cumulative Trauma Disorder” (as mentioned in the quote at the end of the blog post) is a much more descriptive term than ‘RSI’.

    > If any of you have tips, including everything about
    > walking, …

    Exercise can help, but some exercises are more useful than others.

    In addition to posting here, also feel free to email me – contact information is on my website.

    -James Knochel

  8. Dear Sherid and James,

    Thank you both so much for responding- you’re advice and prayers could not have come at a better time. The pain is of course still there and I find that I’m focusing on it more and more because I’m tiring myself out at University: I’m such a basket case over-achiever and I just can’t help but feeling so unsatisfied with my body not working “perfectly”, you know? But to Sherid-I’m trying to relax so much. I find it very difficult, since all of my old methods of relaxation, such as singing, writing, exercising, dancing and even cooking, now cause me pain, which leads to more stress. Do you guys have any advice for this? I can’t stand the thought of cutting these things out of my life, but hold back on doing these hobbies, because I keep thinking that if it hurts, it means I’m doing damage and that I should stop. And then, when I can’t help myself, I cook all day or sing or write, and I feel better but sometimes much worse, depending on the day or how much I was paying attention while chopping, etc. Is the pain always an indication of damage? Or can it just be “referred” and I should pay attention to it, but not so much so, that I miss out on all the things I used to find enjoyable? I just don’t know what to do, because I don’t even have a clear diagnosis yet, you know? BUT, with saying that, my friend and family and involvements ensure that I can’t give up-I keep pulling myself through and will continue to, no matter what. I just hate the idea of living my life, all in emotional turmoil, never knowing how I’m going to feel from one day to the next. I need to know that it’s going to get somewhat better…..Thank you again guys!!

  9. Kate,

    > relaxation, such as singing, writing, exercising, dancing and even
    > cooking, now cause me pain, which leads to more stress.

    These are not the type of relaxation that I was referring to. A more beneficial type of ‘relaxation’ is a state where the mind is awake, but the body is asleep. This helps calm the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ nervous system (sympathetic) and activates the ‘rest-and-digest’ nerves (parasympathetic).

    You might experience this as a ‘drifty-dreamy’ state between sleep and wakefulness – either just before you fall asleep at night, or just after waking in the morning. Maybe, maybe not.

    Whatever physical problem a person has, it always helps to balance the body’s sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Meditating or relaxing once a day is good, twice a day is very good, and three times a day is excellent.

    Regular meditation can also help with emotional turmoil… Not as quickly as using some form of ‘energy psychology’ (“EFT”, “TFT”, etc), but better than just hoping the emotions will take care of themselves.

    -James Knochel

  10. Hi Kate,

    Do not worry – you will not always be in this pain. The 1st thing to do is to stop worrying and catastraphying about the future (we all have done this too :))

    I would suggest living in the present moment.

    The things that you mentioned that used to help you de-stress…there is no reason why you should not be able to do these things again, but 4 now you have to someone stop yourself worrying about the future.

    The doctors have said that they can’t find something tangible to blame your pain on (typical LOL). But you are feeling pain which is very real and a nightmare.

    It is very difficult to try and work out whether you should do certain things and press through the pain. When I was in the throws of my RSI I “pressed through” and eventually couldn’t even lift a finger due to pain.

    These are my suggestions:

    1. Don’t do anything extra-murally for the moment, do the things you have to do in your life.

    2. Add in things that will help you rather than hinder you at the moment. Start doing slow relaxation stretching exercises. A good book on slow and gentle stretching is, ‘Conquering carpal tunnel’ by Sharon Butler. It is for more than carpal tunnel & she covers how stretching your problems area just to the point where you start to feel pain and then pull back and then gently do again and each time push just a fraction more BUT never put your body in pain and push too far. Gentle is the key.

    3. Stretching other parts of your body. I used a basic “stretching video” called, ‘Stretch away stress’…get something similar to that. It was not hard cpre yoga but simple stretching exercises. It REALLY helped.

    4. Go get your blood tested for gluten levels and other mineral levels like magensium and buy supplements depending on what test results come back as.

    5. Maybe stop eating carbohydrates for 3 weeks & see if that makes a difference (this literally changed my RSI and pain).

    5.5. Get your doctor to get you started on some sort of muscle relaxant medication like amitrptyline. These relax the muscles gving them a chance to heal.

    6. Go for a walk, fast walk, every day for 30-40 minutes.

    7. Find new ways to de-stress just for the moment. You wil still be able to do those other activities that help de-stress you but just for the moment find ones that you can do pain free and then eventually you will ease back into doing those others. YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS BE IN THIS STATE…IT WILL CHANGE – Think of it like expanding your de-stress activites just for the moment.

    8. Still sing 🙂 Read books. Do whatever it takes to take your mind off the pain & the worry. A good movie.
    – enjoy the time you have to slow down and watch the world and change the way you look at this period of “recovery”. See it as an opportunity to be allowed to slow down and enjoy not rushing around. You can sit and be still and enjoy the world and enjoy those people around you & have quiet time sitting with God.

    Good luck, still praying for you!

  11. In case it has any useful info, you can find my RSI experience here:

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