Heal your Hands

(c) CarpalTunnelGadgets

(c) CarpalTunnelGadgets

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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…
  5. 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.


Your desk chair is killing you

Hey, you!  How long have you been sitting in that chair?  Bet you’ve been there for a few hours, haven’t you?  Don’t you realize that sitting for hours upon end is slowly killing you?  Don’t laugh at me.  You are totally being murdered by your chair.

As technology demands our almost constant attention, humans have turned into lazy lumps plopped in one spot staring endlessly at electronic screens.  The only movement comes from hands clacking away at keyboards or touchscreens.  And let’s not bring writing into the mix… ok, lets–this is a writing blog after all.  Writers are some of the worst culprits of sitting on their ‘tukas’, typing or scribbling away without a break.  You become so lost in your story that time ceases to exist.  Before you know it, 6 hours has flown by and you has not shifted  even an inch since sitting down at your desk chair.  It is terrifying what we writers do to our bodies for our craft.  I would like for this post to be a wake up call to all of the writers out there.  Sitting is killing your body!

As a kid, I despised sitting for long periods of time, especially in school.  Whenever I was forced to sit during class, my attention always wandered to the the nearest window.  I would get antsy and start shifting about in my chair.  A powerful yearn surged to be outside, running and playing.  If class would have been conducted where everyone could stand and learn by being in motion instead of sitting, I may have been a better student.  My body slowly became accustomed to sitting for an hour or two straight.  When I entered my mid-20’s, something awful happened.  I obtained a corporate job, which mandated sitting at a desk for almost 8 hours straight (aside from an hour lunch and two 15 min breaks).  I grew complacent with sitting at a desk in “cube land”.  It became the norm.  I converted to the dark side and accepted never leaving my desk.

Sitting is so incredibly prevalent that we don’t even question how much we’re doing it. And because everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t even occur to us that it’s not OK. – Nilofer Merchant at “Got a Meeting? Take a Walk” TED 2013

10 years later, I am still working in the corporate world and on top of that I am a writer.  So after I finish working an 8+ hour desk job, I sit for another 4 hours to write / blog / view social media.  Oh, there is also a 3 hour commute to and from the office in which I drive.  That is at least 15 hours of sitting on my butt per day!!!  My total of non-active hours is staggering.

Recently there has been an increase in “sit studies” and how prolonged sitting is affecting our health.  Do you want to read a horrific article about the ill-effects of long term sitting?  Then check out Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?, written by James Vlahos and published in the New York Times magazine.

Sedentary lifestyles lead to a myriad of health issues: obesity, heart disease, blood clots, stroke, and even death.  Vlahos’ article describes a 14 year study, which was conducted by American Cancer Society epidemiologist Alpha Patel, that found out of 123,000 Americans, men who spent 6 hours or more per day sitting had an overall death rate 20% higher than those who sat for 3 hours or less.  For women, the death rate was an astounding 40% higher!

If you think that exercising once a day for about an hour is going to counterbalance the effects of sitting for long periods of time and prolong you last hour on Earth, you are dead wrong.  The only cure is to STAND UP, take many breaks, and get active for more than an hour a day!

After reading Vlahos’ article and various other studies, I cannot take sitting down anymore.  Unfortunately, deskbound is not something I can alter, however, I can help rectify my “sitting” situation.  One major change that can be done is to obtain a standing desk.  The downside to this is that most commercial standing desks cost several hundred dollars.  Though, author Andrew Knighton came up with a solution to that.  He created his own standing desk and blogged about it here.  He has a rather ingenious design that piqued my interest to see what other blueprints are out there. I jumped on one of my favorite websites, lifehacker.com, to see what designs they had for standing desks.  Lifehacker has several creative examples, like a treadmill desk.  If nothing on that site is to your fancy, then there are always those famous “Ikea hacks“, which can be more economical.  Some of these desks are absolutely gorgeous and trendy, though I really don’t need a third desk (yes, I have 2 already).  My option to turn my existing desks into standing desks via bed risers.  Here is an adjustable set that will raise a desk 5 to 8 inches.

Elevating your desk to a standing height is only one solution.  Another is to take breaks away from your chair.  This is something that I struggle to do.  A time keeper I am not!  Realistically you should step away from your desk every 20 minutes.  The break can be anything from stretching, taking a walk, or going for a quick run.  The point of the break is to get up and do some kind of activity get your heart pumping and your limbs moving.  Sitting for long periods of time not only has negative consequences on your health, but on your muscles as well.  Your glutes and hamstrings stretch out like a rubber band, while hip flexors tighten from being constricted all the time.  Let’s not even get into what it does to your back!  With your muscles all out of whack, your posture is going to be hunched and your mobility / flexibility will become limited.

Sitting for long periods of time — when you don’t stand up, don’t move at all — tends to cause changes physiologically within your muscles.  You stop breaking up fat in your bloodstream, you start getting accumulations of fat … in your liver, your heart and your brain. You get sleepy. You gain weight. You basically are much less healthy than if you’re moving. — Gretchen Reynolds, The First 20 Minutes

As I said, I am a horrible time keeper.  I started keeping a timer at my desk that would go off every 20 minutes, reminding me to get up and take a break.  That didn’t even last through the first notification.  I promptly turned the timer off and kept typing away, ignoring my body’s pleas to get up and move.  Some tough love was needed.  I now set my oven timer, which is on a different floor in my house.  That incessant beeping forces me to get up, go downstairs, and turn it off.  So far, this has been working.  Once I am away from the desk, I go about taking a break by letting the dogs out, getting my mail, or stepping outside to take in a deep breath of fresh air.

If you absolutely can’t walk away from your desk, then do something to wake up your muscles.  You don’t have to leave the vicinity of your desk to do this.  Stretching is a key component to keeping a body flexible and healthy.  Stand up, push back your chair, and go through a couple cycles of Sun Salutation.  If you absolutely can’t leave your chair, there are several stretches that can be done while sitting (though the goal is to really get out of that damned chair…).  If you are in an office setting and think you may become embarrassed–who cares!  Start busting out your moves in front of your co-workers.  Maybe you will inspire them to get their butts moving.  Should you need stretching examples, I started a Pintrest board of different exercises that help counter the effects of long term sitting.

The writer’s brain is the hub of creative processes.  It is nourished by the writer’s body.  If the writer’s body is not taken care of, how can one expect the writer’s brain to produce at an optimal level?  We need to start caring for our creative bodies just as much as we care for our creative brains.  It is time to get off our tushes and get moving.

Have you found a creative way to break the sitting cycle?  If so, please help out your fellow sedentary writer and comment below!