Your writing career can be adversely affecting the health of your body. While writing is not necessarily a physical job, it can still be a harmful occupation. For most, a career as an author is a sedentary job. We sit for long periods a day, staring at computer screens, clacking away at keyboards. After I wrote the article, Your desk chair is killing you, I began to think about my own health. It is not just sitting for long hours that is harmful, but also how I type, how I look at the computer screen, my posture while sitting, and my eating habits. All of these factors, when done improperly, can lead to a myriad of diseases and overall poor health.
Over the next few weeks I will be posting articles for The Healthy Writer’s Body series, which was inspired by the Your desk chair is killing you article. For this week, the topic is going to focus on the one part of our bodies that probably feel the most effects from poor ergonomic habits: hands and wrists.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the monster of all repetitive stress injuries. It occurs when the median nerve (a nerve that runs from the forearm to the palm) becomes compressed at the wrist. This nerve controls all feeling in the thumb, fingers (except the index) and palm side of the hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause shooting pain or a cold numbness through the hands and fingers. Surgery is an option to fix the injury, but the healing time is about six weeks. As in six weeks of no typing or writing! Also, from what I understand the procedure is painful and usually leaves a noticeable scar. The surgery cuts the carpal ligament to relieve the symptoms, however, a possible side effect is a loss in wrist strength. Kind of scary, right? The New York Times estimates over 500,000 Americans go under the knife to fix carpal tunnel syndrome. That is a staggering number of surgeries for this one specific injury. Luckily, this is an injury that is easily avoidable.
There are several things that can be done to negate the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Use wrist support– There are a few options here. You can wear an actual wrist brace while typing or rest your wrists on a wrist pad that is for a keyboard and mouse. The key for this support is to keep your wrists and hands in line. Having your hands bent, more so back towards your body, is the main culprit in carpal tunnel for writers. Remember that median nerve that I mentioned earlier? Having your wrists flexed in one position for long periods of time compresses that nerve. Over time, carpal tunnel sets in.
- Go Ergonomic! – The definition of ergonomic is to provide the most optimum comfort while reducing stress or injury. Though this relates to your body on a whole, if you are looking specifically for products to aid in preventing carpal tunnel, “ergonomic” is a good SEO term to use in your keyword search. I zeroed in on this when looking for a more “wrist happy” keyboard and mouse. My hands and wrists fell in love with the Microsoft Sculpt setup. I have been 100% pain free in the hands for a year since switching to this model. There are several other things you can do with your keyboard and mouse setup to make it more ergonomic. Here is a great article (with pictures!) that shows you how to set up the perfect workstation to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome: Healthy Computing – Keyboard: Setup and Usage
- Use an external mouse and keyboard – Well this kind of ties into #1 and #2, but laptop keyboards and mouse track pads are by far the worst for your wrists. There is little to no support there and because of the more compact size of a laptop keyboard, you usually have to place your hands in an unnatural angle to type. Using laptop keyboards and mouse track pads are fine short term, but definitely not for extended periods of time. Do yourself a favor and get yourself an external set. Your wrists will thank you.
- Take a break – This is the “Apple a Day…” advice. We all need to take breaks from the computer, every 20 minutes if possible. This is not only good for the hands, but for your whole body. Humans were not built to sit for long periods of time. Push back that chair, stand up, shake out your hands, and…
- Exercise – There are plenty of exercises that can be found online to help keep wrists and hands nimble, alleviating pain and potential long term injury. Go to your favorite search engine and type in “Carpal Tunnel Exercises” and you will be bombarded with thousands of exercises and products. Or better yet, check out my Pinterest board Exercises for the Writer’s Body. Put together a regimen for yourself and try to do it twice a day. Seriously, it should only take a few minutes to exercise your wrists and keep them healthy.
Do you think you may have carpal tunnel? The best advice is to see your doctor as soon as possible. If it is not bad enough, he or she may recommend additional exercises to help to counteract the effects so that surgery can be avoided.
Don’t know if you have carpal tunnel, below are a few signs. However, this is not medical advice to diagnose yourself. You should definitely contact your doctor with any questions or concerns that you may have. I mean really, of all the people in the world, do you honestly want medical advice from me? Remember, I am the muse who likes to lock people in TSM lab and run “experiments”.
Possible signs of Carpal Tunnel:
- Loss of feeling in thumb, index, and middle finger
- Pain radiating up forearm
- Hand and / or wrist pain
- Loss of hand grip strength
- Poor circulation in hands and fingers
- Clumsiness of hands / Loss of Strength
Take care of your writer’s body–it’s the only one you have.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome just sucks. I have a lot of problems with my hands (mostly arthritis but also CTS) and totally agree that the right keyboard makes a big difference. I use a soft touch “chiclet” style keyboard but still hope and dream of having my ancient Xeos split keyboard fixed and rigged for USB. Do the wrist and hand stretches…they do help.
This is very good advice. I use an external mouse and keyboard at work, so I can move around (in my chair), lean back and straighten my neck. I’ve been sent to Physical Therapy twice due to neck/shoulder pain caused by the posture of working at a keyboard. Repetitive typing still sends my right wrist into spasms. I will be following this series closely. thanks.
I hope that this Wednesdays post will help then! It will be about posture while sitting.
That is my biggest problem. I work at it but it’s a constant battle.
I’m a medical transcriptionist, so I’m at the computer typing eight hours a day. I found a product called Carpal Mate made by a company called Work About. They’re wrist supports, but they allow more freedom of movement than traditional wrist braces. I think I bought mine at a medical supply store, though you can probably find them on the internet.
I am going to have to check out that product. I love testing out new things and giving a review. Thanks, MJ!
My mother had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome a number of years ago and I remember how much pain she was in at that time. She eventually needed surgery to correct the issue and was unable to use her arm properly for several weeks.
Prevention is most definitely better than cure.
I am sorry to hear you mother had the surgery. I hope that it was able to help her and not cause any additional issues. Agreed – prevention is the key!!
The surgery was a success and she’s had no symptoms since it’s been done. It wasn’t much fun for her at the time though… 🙂
Great article – and idea for a series. I can tell you, from all too personal an experience, that you don’t fully appreciate the gravity of the situation you present until you are in the middle of it.
About 9 months ago, I woke up with excruciating pain in my back right shoulder blade. I had no immediate trauma that would have indicated any reason for this pain. To make a long story short, I ended up with three slipped discs in my back – from, drum roll please – poor posture while sitting at my computer for 8+ hours a day.
Luckily, physical therapy has kept a majority of the symptoms at bay. And, I am no much more mindful of my posture and taking breaks throughout the day (as I sit up straighter now) 😉
Thanks for sharing this very important topic Amanda. I think it’s something we take for granted – looking at the process of writing or sitting in front of our computers as sedentary and risk-free.
Wow, that is terrifying! I just sat up perfectly straight when I read your comment–thanks… I had no idea you could get slipped discs from sitting at the computer. Well, this week’s post is going to be about posture while sitting, and I am going to do a little extra research about your specific case. I wonder how many other people have experience slipped discs from sitting…
I am glad you are enjoying the topic! And yes, definitely something we all take for granted.
I think I’m okay on this one. I do yoga, so my wrists get stretched out quite a bit. YAHOO. I both look forward and am fearful of the rest of the series. Muah!
hmm…. I noticed when I was more regimented with Yoga, my wrists hurt less. I think that is a kick in the pants to get back into the Yoga habit… Thanks, Marcy!!
I have never heard of CTS. I’m glad I came here. And yeah–it is spooky to lose wrist length. That’s one arm shorter than the other. Crazy.
Harder to keep the zombies at an arm’s length away too…
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