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Go With the Flow : The unnatural way you move your body may be causing you pain. Think of the hand, fingers and arm as one.

November 15, 1994|BERKLEY HUDSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA NIGUEL — Nina Scolnik's hands move with grace and precision across the grand piano keyboard in her living room. Then she abandons Chopin and slides off the piano bench to settle onto a chair at her dining table, where a computer keyboard awaits.

There she types as if she were playing an etude, then stops to explain the connection she sees:

Whether you're a butcher, court stenographer, landscaper, concert pianist or computer operator, if you want to cure aching fingers, hands, arms and back, you needn't resort to splints, wrist rests, stretching exercises or surgery.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 17, 1994 Home Edition Life & Style Part E Page 7 Column 4 View Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Repetitive stress--The last two quotes in Tuesday's Life & Style story on repetitive stress injuries should have been attributed to William A. Pereira, an occupational health physician in Oakland.

Just learn the basic, natural movements that successful pianists have relied on for centuries, she says.

The problem is not with the computer, the cash register or the meat cleaver, says Scolnik, 41, a piano faculty member at UC Irvine. "The problem is with the way people move. The finger, the hand, the arm must move as a unit."

And that's the basic idea emanating from a Brooklyn woman who has taught piano for 50 years. During that time, Dorothy Taubman has spawned thousands of disciples of the Taubman method, known largely within the U.S. piano community.

"Blaming the instrument," says Taubman, 76, "is like saying that writer's cramp is caused by the pencil." Or the computer.

Now, Taubman and her colleagues, including Scolnik, are launching a nationwide business to transfer what they know to the broader realm of non-musicians who suffer from repetitive stress injury, or RSI.

Aimed at teaching people how to use computers with techniques previously reserved for musical instruments, the company offers workshops to retrain injured workers and to train those who want to prevent injuries.

As the RSI problem has mushroomed to afflict everyone from secretaries to executives with hurting muscles, tendons and nerves, Taubman and her associates have been approached on occasion by businesses wanting to see if the technique could help. But only recently has the Taubman Institute decided to focus on it.

"There are so many people out there in trouble (who) can't get help, and this little lady has figured it all out--what the medical profession has not figured out," says Taubman Institute Executive Director Enid Stettner, who lives in Upstate New York.

To initially spread the word, Taubman is relying on two dozen faculty members who teach at her institute, held each summer at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

Key among them is Scolnik, the principal West Coast advocate of Taubman's methods. Since the late 1970s, she has been associated with Taubman and has introduced many of her own students to the technique.

As the Taubman consulting firm starts up, one of Scolnik's former UC Irvine piano students, Greg Dempster of Laguna Beach, has also begun what he bills as the first company "in the country to adapt this approach to the business community."

From 1983 to early this year, Dempster studied with Scolnik, who introduced him to Taubman's ideas. "At first I thought this was really snake oil, that this was from Mars," says Dempster, 34, who completed his undergraduate and master's work with Scolnik.

But soon Dempster, who had been injured from his earlier technique, became a believer. For six summers, he studied with Taubman at Amherst and was a teaching assistant at the institute.

As he was teaching one of his own students who worked as a computer operator, Dempster says, "It became obvious that this applied quite directly to computer people."

Within the past few months, Dempster has put together a staff including other Taubman devotees and has already been offering seminars and making a pitch to intrigued representatives of Southern California companies.

At a recent seminar at the Irvine Hyatt Regency, he spoke to a small gathering, including representatives from Orange County businesses interested in this new tactic to combat RSI.

"Correct movement minimizes effort, fatigue," he says. "If you are not moving correctly, there is a level of fatigue you are operating under."

As an example, he cites the problem of hitting the keys too hard. "Anybody have an idea of the weight it takes to displace a computer key? It's about a gram or gram and a half. Your forearm weighs about 15 pounds. So this is always a winning battle."

At Dempster's request, his seminar students stand with hands and arms by their sides. Then he outlines another of Taubman's main ideas. "Notice how your hands hang. No two are alike. Everybody's hand will look different on the keyboard.

"The natural profile of the wrist, at rest, at your side--that is more or less the profile it should have when it's moving or performing work. Any time you distort that, so that any of the joint structure is out of the mid-range arc of motion, you develop problems."

That means avoid curling your fingers, avoid twisting your hands into positions that would mimic actor Charlie Chaplin's famous splayed feet antics and avoid stretching your fingers to reach unnaturally.

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