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A few thoughts about RSI

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Fergie Fulton, Nov 20, 2012.

  1. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Here is a thought. What is RSI ?

    Think about it...Repetitive Strain Injury. We hear about it all the time when players talk about techniques as something to beware of, so what is it?

    What is repetitive in my playing?
    What is strain in my playing?
    What is considered an injury?

    For the motion to be repetitive it needs to have repeating task?.........

    No the task is not the issue, you define the task, you apply a mental commentary to it to help reason and justify why you do it.

    For a motion to he repetitive the mechanics of the motion are what needs to be repetitive, not the task.
    There is the time factor involved in using motion, and the length of time the motion has already been used.

    So is typing the same as playing bass because the fingers move due to the mechanics of muscular tension in the motion?

    Well no, because in typing both hands are pronated ( palms facing down ) to type, but in playing bass one hand is pronated and the other is supernated ( palms facing up ).
    Since finger movement as an action has its muscular origins in the forearms, then the muscular tension needed to rotate the palms and hold them there will have an impact on the actions of the fingers if tension builds from it.
    So the action is the same, but the motion has one palm facing up and on palm facing down. So anyone typing on a keyboard use is using the same action, but they have to be careful not to introduce a heavy motion that is not needed.
    In the old days when typewriters were mechanical, weight of touch was needed to engage the keys to the paper so the action was heavy.
    The motion came from the weight of the forearms and the motion of them moving up and down...the fingers did not just action the keys, other forces of motion were in used to support the finger action.
    Today's keyboards do not require a heavy touch, so the motion is different, but the action of the fingers is the same. These days it is about the height and angle that the forearms are held in relation to the work surface and keyboard...the change of angle in the wrist or posture can cause problems. This is why RSI can be prominent or promoted in both playing bass and using a computer keyboard.

    This is also true of piano players when playing keys directly in front of themselves. But as the arms move apart the nature of the motion on the upper body changes, but the hand action remains similar as they were when playing in front of them, but the posture has now changed.

    Motion is not the sole cause of problems, it is how the motion is used with specific actions over a length of time that bring problems. With the average life expectancy now seeing us living longer, wear and tear of muscle groups and joints can wear out through normal everyday life, never mind adding in the extra physical use of playing bass.
    All sort of sportsmen and woman have physical problems when their career is finished, some are even finished by injury.
    These days a sports career is over by the mid thirties, depending on the sport of course, because they cannot train like they used in order to compete with the younger players. Their over-use in younger years, come backs to them in their latter years.

    I can be all brought down to this, "mis-use and over use".
    If anyone can recognise these two simple factors they will save themselves a lot of time and Injury in life.

    So when practicing, when does it turn into over-use?

    Chances are it may be over-use the moment you pick up the bass.
    It may be a mis-use if the hands are not properly warmed up and fuelled when a practice starts.
    So practice is now a mis-use or an over-use, any practice now is now not having a constructive influence on playing.
    Practicing every day for the same length of time may not be practice as such...it maybe just habit......it may be having the opposite effect on what you believe the practice should be doing.
    It could be that the first 10 minutes of any practice session was all that was needed to be constructive, the rest of the session is working with tired and fatigued hands so it is a mis-use and is doing more harm then good.

    If you practice in the evening after a hard days work, your hands maybe already over-used, tired, and not ready to play.
    Think about it....most gigs are at the evening, the last thing you may do that day before going to sleep is to drive, setup, play, breakdown, drive.......not the best time of the day to be physical, especially if the muscles are not warmed up and fuelled.

    Pros have all day to play, as it is their job.
    I mainly do my practice in the morning after breakfast, so I am rested, fuelled up and ready to play. When I play evening shows I am rested, warmed up and fuelled before I go on,and after I come off. Warming down and replacing fuel is just as important as maintaining it.

    What is considered and injury?

    An injury ( in the case of a player) is a physical restriction to motion.
    So that broken finger from your childhood may come into play if your fatigued and start over-use of tired hands.
    A simple warm up and good fuel ( as already stated ) for the muscles to perform better and a shorter physical practise would be the call of the day.
    The next day may allow a longer practice, but the warm up and good fuel for the muscles should always be present in everyone's playing routines.

    Certain back and neck injuries can affect the hands.
    Subtle injuries to elbows can affect fingers, Brachial Plexus strains can mimic the symptoms of CTS, not standing correct can affect the hips, this in turn affects the spine, which affects the neck, which...well it is all linked.
    Being aware of our own playing situations for our own reasons should be the order of the day.

    Driving a car for example, do you hold the wheel gently in your hands or grip it tight?
    Do you rest your elbow on the door, the vibration of the elbow against a hard surface can irritate the ulnar nerve, as can leaning on the elbows at a desk or table. In holding the wheel tight that is over-use, as the same task can be down with less tension, so less strain.

    If your eyesight is bad, you will strain not only your eyes, but your neck and back if you are reading and playing.
    You will crane your neck forward to read, so you will not be relaxed, you will in fact be introducing un-needed and un-wanted tension and strain in to your playing or practice. Your spine will not be a straight as it should be, your shoulders will be under tension to support the neck etc, etc.
    Just an example of how to spot over-use and mis-use, because that's what has happened here.
    The neck has an over use, and the posture when playing is now a mis-use.

    It is more than just the hands that can cause or introduce problems, but it will normally be the hands that will make you aware of any, because that's where your focus will be. You will tend to notice the cumulative affect of a problem because you dismissed the small collective warnings and not being important or linked in any way.
    You will tend to justify injuries as a ' no pain no gain' situation, but that It could be that the first 10 minutes of any practice session was all that was needed to be constructive, the rest of the session is working with tired and fatigued hands so it is a mis-use.again is a mis-use of any over-use. Pain is not part of any practice or playing situation. So when a neck or shoulder starts to ache that is mis-use or over-use, but you may end up seeing the effects in the hands.

    I will finish with the idea again that you base any technique what you can do, not what you see other do.
    You may even develop to have a better technique over time, but see it as development rather than any instant change.
    Change does indeed come in plateaus, it is not a gradual development of skills you gage, it is actually the opposite, you never really notice improvement...one day you cannot, then next day you can.

    Everyone physically changes over time, some of the physical things I used to do when younger I cannot do today.
    I have learned that it is more important to understand how I do things rather than how others do things.....my playing is about me, not others.

    So when I teach or talk at clinics on the subject, I try to get across the point about relating what you learn and how you learn to the practicalities of what you actually play.
    It's about the expectations of students, and the reality of playing.

    The main thing I find in talking to players that have problems is that they underdeveloped the mental side of learning and playing.
    What this means is rather than listening to a song, hearing what is going on, and working it out in their head, they have to work it out using the instrument.
    All this means is more physical use is used than required, so that means more playing time, which over-use...that could be potential mis-use for the average player or student if they do not recognise it in their own playing or practice.

    For anyone wanting to try a change, listen to a song first, learn it in your head, work out what you think you hear. Then put it altogether, hear it all in your head.......then pick up the bass and play it to confirm that what you learned was correct.
    It may surprise a few players how easy it was to do, and like most skills the more you develop and use it, the faster and easier it becomes.

    RSI does not affect thinking, maybe that's because most of us are guilty of not thinking often enough?
  2. SteC


    Mar 20, 2012
    This is interesting. It almost sounds like you're saying playing bass is bad for you to begin with, which is a scary thought. I like the idea of working out songs in your head first, I'm going to give it a try.

    What exactly do you mean about fuel, are you just talking about having a good diet?
  3. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    I am saying that playing bass will injure you, but will injure you in ways that you are prepared to accept and justify as sportsmen and women do...and those that play for fun. Football, golf, tennis, mountain biking, running, etc etc, like playing bass can develop problems specific to the task. We do not consider these things bad for us, they are just risks we run, but we can reduce there impact on developing injuries, and we can help maximise performance at the same time.

    Muscles are fibres, two different types of fibres that have very different functions in the body. So of we look at muscles as say rubber bands, we can get an idea of what is going on. The cells within the body are constantly being replace as old, injured, or diseased one become apparent. So within muscle fibres the same is happening all the time. This process keeps the body fit and healthy, working at maximum efficiency.
    So if you constantly use a rubber band, it becomes worn, if becomes weak, and eventually snaps. It can also snap of over stretched ( over use ) or used for the wrong purpose ( mis-use ).
    But if the job you use it for is to hold lots of papers together, you only notice it is damaged, weak, or broken, when it fails, only when all the papers get scattered, do you change the elastic band....because you have to. If you had noticed the elastic band was not performing as it should, and changed it, then its chances of song would be less and you would not be gathering up and rearranging the papers....a job that was already done.
    The elastic band was supposed to hold the papers in order you had already set, you had already spend time and effort in doing it, but here you are again....doing the same job.

    In the body muscles can be seen in the same way, by looking after them we can lessen the chance of damage. But as we get older that function of cell renewal slows down and does so without any outside influence.
    So we notice things like skin not as tight, hair not as thick, eyesight not as sharp, hearing not as good, joints stiffer, muscles not as strong etc.
    So for long time players they ( myself included ) have to distinguish what is natural wear and tear and what has been caused by an outside influence.
    Any one that has ever injured a knee, shoulder, ankle, elbow etc, when younger pretty much shook it off after treatment and rest.
    But in later life they will feel it, that injury area will re-appear out of no-where and start to play up.
    All this is down to the fact that the body is reproducing cells that protect that injury, it replaces injured cells as fast as the old ones die, so we do not notice any difference. But when that process slows down and they do not get replaced as fast.....we feel the effects.

    As I said playing bass is not bad for you, but it will injure you.....you just may not realise it.

    Yes having good diet before and after playing is essential to good muscle use.
    Certain foods will make muscle use easier by promoting a good slow consistent energy to them.
    I can play bass for hours and hours and not loss breathe, not even a raised heartbeat or a drop of sweat from the task if I am practicing....so how does my body fuel this?
    Normally with a physical task my respiration rate rises and I take in more oxygen, my heart beats faster, so moving that oxygen around the body to the areas that need it to fuel the muscles.
    Also the blood stream removes waste products to allow maximum performance, but when I play the only part that is comparable is muscle use and maximum performance.....none of the rest of it happens. The blood stream is like a super highway within the body to not only carry oxygen but cells, proteins, chemicals etc that work with the nervous system to send signal to produce motion.

    Damage to the nervous system can reduce, inhibit, or stop any function of motion.

    The above is Aerobic muscle use with oxygen as the main fuel source, with Anaerobic muscle use it is the food source that is the energy.
    See It as your body needs constant anaerobic fuel to maintain everyday tasks and uses Aerobic fuel when the task becomes overtly physical.
    You stand up all day, that requires muscle tension to hold you up, all the muscles in your body are in constant use to keep you balanced, give you motions, and hold your posture.....but you never get out of breath.
    So the energy comes from food, your diet can have an effect on how fast you tire or loss concentration.
    That's why certain foods and drinks can "boost" performance, they help sustain performance.
    Our body only has a certain amount of blood, so if you eat heavy foods that are slow in the digestion then the stomach has to deal with that, so the stomach gets more of you blood to deal with the task.
    That blood has to be taken from somewhere else..it is not extra blood the body produces it is just blood re-directed away from other areas that do not need it as much. That's why after a heavy meal if you run or swim you get a stitch in your side, its just your body stopping or slowing you down because the muscles cannot cope with that activity and digest food at the same time. So to prevent injury or damage the stitch either stops or really reduces the physical use till it can get more blood to those muscles to service the use.

    So what foods should be eaten before, during and after playing are on this list.
    Food and drink for energy should be taken lightly before, during and after playing. About an hour before and an hour afterwards. It depends on the persons metabolism as to how fast or slow the body uses the food. So experiment with it and see what brings the best results for you.

    Potassium must be rightly included in your daily diet to reduce the risk of heart attacks and blood pressure problems.
    Potassium is a good source of cramp prevention and relief.
    Sufficient potassium can be consumed by including the potassium rich foods in our daily diet.
    Potassium rich foods are listed below and are categorized according to the fruits, vegetables, dairy products and other potassium rich foods.
    Proper amount of potassium must be included in food.
    There are two main problems associated with Potassium levels that can develop, hyperkalemia or hypokalemia.
    Hyperkalemia is excessive storage of potassium and hypokalemia is deficiency of potassium.
    A balanced diet should be enough to sustain a healthy Potassium level as well as other levels of vitamins within the body.

    Acorn squash
    Baked beans
    Butternut squash
    Bamboo shoots
    Fresh or boiled beet
    Black beans
    Lima beans
    Brussels sprouts
    Dried peas and beans
    Hubbard squash
    Turnip cabbage
    Refried beans
    Cooked spinach
    Tomatoes and tomato products
    Yellow turnips
    Vegetable juices
    Kidney beans

    Kiwi fruit
    Orange and orange juice
    Watermelon juices
    Prunes and prune juice


    Red wine
    White wine

    Bran products
    Nuts and seeds
    Peanut Butter
    Ice milk
    Wheat bread
    Apple cider vinegar
    Cottage cheese
    Ricotta cheese
    Vanilla Ice-cream
    Cinnamon raisin bagel
    Plain bagel
    French bread
    Plain bagel
    Onion, poppy and sesame seed bagel
    Oatmeal bread
    English muffins
    Cocoa powder
  4. SteC


    Mar 20, 2012
    Cool, thanks.