Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be medically accurate advice. If you have pain in your hands, joints, or anywhere else on your body… get it checked out by a medical professional, my friend.
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What is Carpal Tunnel?
It’s a nasty little syndrome. Especially if you’re a writer. Carpal Tunnel symptoms vary from person to person (I experience numbness and tingling in my middle and ring fingers, as well as a deep, throbbing ache in my wrists and forearms) and usually is caused by a lot of repetitive motion. Swelling occurs, and then one tiny little nerve inside the wrist sets everything on fire. Cold usually makes it worse, but shaking out your hands can temporarily relieve the pressure. It can sometimes feel like a hyper-extended tendon and it can take hours or days to recuperate (that is, if you’re not to the point where you need surgery to fix the problem. But don’t fret—you can probably avoid surgery just like I have!) You can read a more detailed explanation of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome here, on MayoClinic.org
I first began writing when I was 7 or 8 years old, but I really fell in love with the craft around age 16. Excited to share my love with other like-minded individuals, I joined an online writing forum—and spent anywhere from 12 to 16 hours on the computer writing stories with these new friends, nearly every day. (I was a home schooled kid and God bless my mother, she was proud I’d taken an interest in anything educational. It was crazy parenting, but she gave me the space to teach myself not only what I needed to learn, but what I passionately desired to study and master. Kudos, Ma.)
With all good intentions aside, I damaged myself severely. I would lie awake at night with silent tears, icing my wrists, fearing that I was done being a writer before I could really begin. I still had so much to say! So many stories to share! Even to this day, with all that I have learned about how to properly take care of my body while also feeding my passion, I have an occasional “bad” day and need to take a break from the keyboard. Maybe I will need surgery in the far future but for now, here are the ways I have learned to reduce my symptoms to almost nothing. That’s right: NO MORE PAIN (except for when I’m a dum-dum and neglect to take my own advice…)
It’s All About Your Workspace
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION, they say. Okay, a workspace is not the only thing causing your carpal tunnel symptoms—exercises (see below) and taking a few sabbath days here and there are even better for your physical and mental health—but it really does matter what keyboard or chair or mouse you use. Below is my list of No-Nos, and a comparative list of replacements.
- High-action keyboards; the more effort it takes to push down a key, the more strain you put on your hands. Old-fashioned typewriters are out of the question, but some electric ones (like my Panasonic KX-E508E) are fairly okay.
- Track pads (the “mouse” part of a laptop) and traditional computer mice. (Mouses?) The constant side-to-side motion you make with your hand while navigating the pointer around your screen can cause damaging inflammation in your wrist.
- Producing all of your work electronically, i.e. On a keyboard.
- Low-action keyboards that are very easy to depress, are ergonomically sound, or my favorite: work on a flat surface like that of a large tablet, so long as it won’t cause you to bend your wrists at an odd angle because the keyboard is too small.
- An ergonomic roller mouse, like this one on Amazon.com. The roller ball is a great alternative to a traditional mouse, and can really save your wrist some troubling friction.
- Take a break from all that typing! On days when you feel a little achy, try picking up paper and pen (but keep the session brief, and with breaks and exercises as mentioned above and below) or try out a Speech Recognition program like Dragon NaturallySpeaking. (There’s a learning curve [this can help!] and it doesn’t always get things right, but you can go back and tidy up when you’re feeling better.)
These are not quick-fixes. Carpal Tunnel takes time to develop and time to heal. It took me over a month to become completely pain-free and it may take less or more time for you, depending on your degree of damage. I encourage you to be persistent in your journey of self-care.
Take lots of breaks. Even schedule days off, if you can, and just don’t touch a keyboard. Not on your phone, not on your tablet, nothin’. Use your time off to fill up your creative well spring; read, watch movies, scroll through blogs, daydream. It’s all writing. It’s all part of nurturing your creative life and your mind and body both need a break, sometimes. But if you absolutely must power through your next best idea, then I recommend taking breaks every 20 minutes and doing a few symptom-relief exercises in the meantime.
I have found that almost any exercise that stretches the wrists will help.
Here’s a good link to some basic Carpal Tunnel exercises on EaronHand.com that are easy to remember and fairly quick. I use them all the time and believe me, they WORK! I am living proof.
Studies [at the Universality of Oklahoma Orthopedic & Reconstructive Research Fundation] indicate that two out of three patients with mild to moderate carpal tunnel symptoms were able to avoid surgery by using these exercises – twice the success rate of other nonsurgical treatments
My dear Razzies, there is hope. I encourage you to do your own research into ergonomic workspaces and Carpal Tunnel exercises that work for you. Please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment to tell me how this information might have helped you!