RSI a pupil’s story

A pupil tells, in her own words, how she recovered from RSI

Four years ago I developed a repetitive strain injury in both hands, wrists, arms, shoulders and neck. The vagus nerve was affected and after 15 minutes of doing any kind of work with my arms – washing up, driving, writing, working on the computer – I was in tears from the sickening, deadly aching pain. The hospital physiotherapist told me I presented the most severe and extensive case she had ever seen and warned me I was unlikely to recover fully. I spent hundreds of pounds each month visiting chiropracters, osteopaths and massage therapists, and although they all provided some relief, nothing lasted. I began to wonder if I could ever work again.

“I was in tears from the sickening, deadly aching pain.”

“I felt the joints gasp with relief and the muscles uncoil.”

A colleague recommended I see Stephanie Smith, an Alexander Technique teacher, and I visited her first in the summer of 2000. We arranged ten 45 minute lessons over a 2 week period and I remember the first session well. I was desperate for help and it seemed she wasn’t doing anything, just quietly taking me systematically round the body as I laid on the couch, inviting each muscle to release and let go. Still in pain, yes, but I felt different when I left that day. Gradually over the next 2 weeks I learnt to listen to what my body was telling me it needed, not doing what I thought it needed. I gave up trying to control everything in my habitual way. I felt the joints gasp with relief and the muscles uncoil. I allowed my thumb to let go its grip, the muscles of my forearm to flow like liquid silk. I began to experience my sternum floating. My shoulders no longer had to hold the whole weight of my body, they began to freely move in relation to my spine. My feet made contact, real contact, with the earth. My steps became more fluid; I became more aware of each movement. And the pain began to disappear. I was learning to allow my body to position itself in the way that it needed and wanted to; my habits were no longer the dictator.

After those first intensive sessions I had lessons once a week, then once a fortnight and after 4 months the RSI was just a memory.

I have never been a conscientious student making disciplined effort to put into practice what Stephanie has taught me. Yet, somehow, my body has learnt even though I keep forgetting. My body hasn’t forgotten, it knows differently, and perhaps this has been the most extraordinary lesson of all: to understand and acknowledge that my body has a consciousness and a capacity to learn independently to my rational thinking. For the first time in my life I knew that I could let go of what I believed to be control and allow my body to guide me. I have found, at last, an actual constructive and conscious control.

“For the first time in my life I knew that I could let go…and allow my body to guide me.”

“In her own quiet and relaxed way she reminded my body to release itself.”

I have been prompted to write this because a few weeks ago the symptoms of the RSI returned, almost as if it acts as a monitor of my state of being, warning me when I am forgetting to respect myself as an integrated whole, not just a mind on legs. Within days I was in disabling pain again and immediately began to think that I had really done it this time, back to the beginning. I called Stephanie and I knew she was smiling on the other end of the phone. ‘Yes’, she said ‘your shoulders have a talent for aggravation’. The extraordinary thing was that the pain went after one lesson with her. In her own quiet and relaxed way she reminded my body to release itself and thus I allowed myself to become realigned.

Like many others, I feel indebted to Stephanie. From that point of despair when I was warned in the hospital it might take years to recover from the RSI, I have a new relationship with myself – rarely perfect – but as with all beautiful relationships it is based on mutual respect, allowing rather than controlling, releasing rather than collapsing, and above all taking time to be kind to myself. And I no longer have pain.

“And I no longer have pain.”