Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is Totally Badass
by Kate Kearns Views: 1134
Typing for hours is part of the writer’s job description. It gives us a certain twisted pride to forget to eat, sleep, and pee because we’re so absorbed in our stories. But all those hours can also do permanent, painful damage if you’re not careful.
That’s right: professional athletes aren’t the only ones whose bodies take a beating. As any good coach will tell you, it’s best to prevent the injury before it becomes a problem.
While our minds were made to soar and explore, our wrists just weren’t designed to hold the typing position for prolonged periods of time, and forcing them to do so eventually causes a repetitive stress injury called carpal tunnel syndrome.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
In the middle of your wrist lives a little channel of bones and ligaments called the carpal tunnel. Over time, those hard core hours spent spinning yarns on your computer make that tunnel swollen and angry. This constriction pisses off your median nerve, which was living quite comfortably inside the carpal tunnel until you started pursuing your inspiration. The median nerve stretches from your forearm into your palm. Without getting too medical, the sensations and movements in your hand largely depend on it.
If you make your median nerve mad for long enough without changing your habits, your carpal tunnel will become permanently shrunken and inflamed. Other symptoms include numbness or pins and needles in the fingers and burning and tingling in the thumb and fingers. The pain can travel up your arm and get worse at night, or even cause your hand to become weak. If you press on through the pain for long enough, surgery may be the only option left to fix the problem. So to keep writing and keep your nerves happy, employ these simple solutions:
Take a Stretch Break
Writers spend just as much time staring into space and thinking as we do writing, so while your hands are free, do these three stretches to relieve the pressure on your nerves several times throughout your day. They don’t take much imagination or coordination, and you don’t even have to leave your seat to do them.
I shall now demonstrate these stretches in true writer style: at my desk in the middle of the night.
Prayer Stretch: Put your palms together and your elbows to either side so that your forearms make a nice straight line from all angles. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds, then, keeping your elbows at the same level, raise your palms up to your chin for a few seconds before lowering them down again. Repeat this four times.
Wrist Flexor/Extensor Stretch: Hold out your hand out flat as if someone is about to give you money. With the other hand, grab your palm and gently pull it in toward yourself so that your hand is perpendicular to your arm and the topof your hand is facing your body. You’ll feel the stretch on the softer, less hairy side of your forearm. Hold it there for 15-30 seconds and repeat four times.
Again, make it symmetrical. Put your arm out with your palm down as if someone is about to kiss your hand. This time, gently pull your hand in the same direction, except your palm should face your body instead. You’ll feel this on the top side of your forearm – the one that’s face up when you’re writing.
Spider presses: Loosening up your hands also helps take pressure off of your wrists. Imagine your hands are spiders. One hand is an actual spider, and the other is its reflection on a mirror. Touch your fingertips together, and keeping your elbows out and your fingers straight, make the spiders do push-ups off of each other.
When you’re done with your stretches, give your hands a good shake as if you’ve just washed them and there are no towels. Your wrists and forearms should feel loose and ready for another draft.
Change it Up
Your positioning, that is. A good way to avoid a repetitive stress injury is to minimize the repetitiveness of your movement. Meaning: Don’t use the same keyboard on the same computer on the same desk all the time. Varying the angle of your arms and hands, both horizontally and vertically, will keep your tendons from getting so irritable.
You should also make your main writing space more ergonomic. It does require buying things, but those special keyboards, pads, and other ergo-accessories do pay off by keeping your wrists at a more natural, unstrained angle.
If you really want to look badass and balance out the snobby ergonomics, wear some carpal tunnel gloves to support your wrists and keep the tendons warm and happy. You’ll also look like a nerdy boxer, which is an awesome perk.
Changing up your physical position also has other benefits for your writing brain. Your brain makes connections between a creative activity and the motor functions it requires. Changing the way you move, even in a subtle way, keeps your brain more active while you’re writing, which can have creative benefits as well. Moving in a new way also makes you slow down and think about what you’re writing. Try writing by hand on paper for a little while (Quentin Tarantino, Amy Tan, Neil Gaiman, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Joyce Carol Oates prefer to write all of their creations long hand first), or get a nice clackity typewriter (like Danielle Steele and Tom Hanks). According to Hanks, “Typing on an actual typewriter on paper is only a softer version of chiseling words into stone.” Worth a try, right?
As the resident old-fashioned Masher, I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the more high-tech options like Dragon Dictation, which lets you sound your barbaric yawp into your device and does the transcription for you – doing away entirely with the need to type.
Do it Before it Hurts
As writers, we torture ourselves in many ways for our craft, but there shouldn’t be any physical pain involved. Surgery is expensive and scary, and acupuncture is, well, needles. Besides, if it hurts too much, you’ll eventually get to the point where you can’t write any more, or at least not as much as you want to, and that’s the worst torture imaginable.
Kate has a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Lesley University. She enjoys all the equipment on the writing playground, evidenced by her many simultaneous projects. She is a freelance writer and editor, author of the poetry collection How to Love an Introvert, and is working on a piece of non-fiction while dabbling in children’s books and flash fiction. She’s the Platform Manager at Mash Stories and the owner of Black Squirrel Workshop LLC.