What Exactly is Writer’s Wrist and How do I Fix it?

This is a guest post by Anthony. Anthony recently completed his graduate degree in English Literature. A New Mexico native, he currently resides and writes in Seattle, Washington. He writes primarily about education, travel, literature, and American culture.

Whether you’re a writer who’s chained to the computer all day, or, like Stephen King, you do your creating on a big yellow legal pad, you may notice that it becomes painful to write after a period of time. You might have a tingling feeling in a few of your fingers or have problems holding a pen without cramping or contractions in your hand. In either case, you may be developing one of the forms of writer’s wrist, and that is definitely a bad thing.

Wrists have a lot of mechanical things going on in them. There are tiny bones that move, tendons, nerves and ligaments all compressed into a relatively small space and working together in precision. Doing the same tasks over and over without thought of how it affects those mechanics can cause minor cumulative injuries and irritations that eventually result in potentially painful and debilitating conditions, such as carpal tunnel. For instance, typing or writing can cause tendons in the wrist to swell, leaving them with no place since it is such a small area. As a result, the tendons end up compressing the median nerve, which runs through the wrist area, causing anything from a mild tingling to numbness to a horrific pain. It may hurt so bad that it feels like your hand, arm and even shoulder are on fire, and it’s often worse at night.

Another common condition associated with wrist pain, focal hand dystonia, shows itself as a cramping or contraction of the muscles of the hand. This often forces the hand to twist into unnatural positions making it difficult or impossible to hold a pen or anything else. Focal hand dystonia is often “task specific” and only shows up with certain activities, but can spread to other areas of the hand. The nasty part of both of these conditions is that once they show up, they cause stress, pain and tension, which can snowball, making the original condition worse.

Luckily, if you are afflicted with one of these conditions, there are things you can do to help yourself. Start by paying attention to ergonomics, having the proper wrist support and positioning at the keyboard will make writing much less painful. You may also want to consider implementing the following tips:

• Whether you’re filling out applications for graduate programs or on a roll writing that great American novel, stop and do a little exercise to relax your hand and get it into a different position. Try rotating your wrist, opening and closing your hand, wiggling your fingers and squeezing one of those rubber exercise balls; anything to relax the muscles and change to a different position for a few minutes.

• If you’re a pen and paper kind of writer, be sure to use a pen that is comfortable in your hand, preferably one with a larger barrel. Try not to grip it too tightly, and make sure it writes easily so you don’t have to press too hard against the paper. Also, be sure to set the pen down when you’re not actually writing, just to change the position of your hand.

• Most importantly, take breaks. Get up and walk around every hour or so, even just for a few minutes to relax your hand, arm and shoulder. This can make a huge difference in your comfort level over time.

Finally, your doctor can be your best friend. A good diagnosis and some professional input can only help, especially if you are having anything more than minor symptoms. Carpal tunnel can be a serious issue requiring surgery to correct, if you ignore the problem and just try to tough it out. When relaxation and ergonomic changes aren’t providing you relief, or if you think your symptoms are getting worse, do not hesitate to get a professional evaluation and advice.


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