Tai Chi and RSI (Tendonitis)

by Andy Dent, November 1994

Some six or so years ago I took a year's absence from Chow Gar, due to a knee injury, and learned the first Tai Chi form. I've been a reasonably diligent practitioner ever since.

However, there are times when business pressures close in that I've dropped almost everything else from my life other than work and sleep. About three years ago I was caught up in such a project and developed a problem with RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury, or Tendonitis) in my right arm. I was using a computer program which required a "triple-click" with a mouse — three very fast movements of the fingers. I was also doing a lot of typing and wrote about 24,000 lines of computer program in a few months.

Of course, because I was so frantically busy, one of the things I'd been silly enough to temporarily discard was my daily Tai Chi.

The doctor put me on some very strong anti-inflammatory medicine and ordered complete rest for the arm for a couple of weeks. That means ABSOLUTELY no movement of the arm. I basically strapped it to my side and went one-armed for the two weeks. I took his advice seriously having just read some articles on RSI. These articles said that the injury is cumulative but so is rest. If you break your period of rest by some small use of the arm, you lose much of the benefit.

When the initial pain was relieved, I wanted to resume full use of the arm but was worried about recurrence of the RSI. I'd started cautiously exercising by doing my Tai Chi and found it helped with the remaining symptoms. Doing my Tai Chi form twice a day, over time the problem disappeared.

I was intrigued, and having a moderate scientific background, decided to experiment. Over the next few years, as I found myself involved in equally busy projects, I tried giving up my Tai Chi for a few days. If I'm doing a lot of typing, it takes about a week for the pain to start recurring and nodules to be felt on the tendons of the arm.

I have tried this experiment twice and am now satisfied that my daily Tai Chi is extremely important in keeping RSI at bay. I'm not sure of the mechanics of why it works, but I suspect the reason would be a combination of:

I've passed this advice on to several people on the Internet and some of them have taken the time to reply, being very grateful for the introduction to Tai Chi. At least one person has experienced significant relief from their own RSI problems.


Ntote: Oct 2004, I saw someone to whom I'm emailed the above advice found a more credible article discussing Tai Chi and RSI by a Tai Chi instructor at Harvard: http://hcs.harvard.edu/~htctc/lecture_rsi.html