How To Avoid Health Problems That Can Affect You As A Writer.

Source

Health problems associated with writing? You must be joking?


"Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up".
Ernest Hemingway


While we're all busy trying to keep up with internet changes, writing hubs, worrying about SEO and keywords, traffic and income we can become a pretty stressed out lot! On top of all that we have the health issues to worry about. Sorry to add to your problems, but it's important that you know what could affect your health and have an impact on your ability to write.

Let's then have a look at some of the problems that might arise.

As writers our spine, neck and limbs are at particular risk of injury due to sitting at a desk using a computer for long periods.
As writers our spine, neck and limbs are at particular risk of injury due to sitting at a desk using a computer for long periods. | Source
This demonstrates a very bad posture to have while sitting at a computer. Note the slumped forward position, with hunched shoulders and arms not resting.
This demonstrates a very bad posture to have while sitting at a computer. Note the slumped forward position, with hunched shoulders and arms not resting. | Source
Diagram showing a good spinal posture for working while sitting.
Diagram showing a good spinal posture for working while sitting. | Source

Common physical health problems to watch out for

Writers need to watch out for a number of health problems that can arise. The most common ones are listed below:

Mogigraphia or Scriverner's Palsy?

  • Have you ever suffered from 'mogigraphia' or 'scrivener's palsy'? It might seem less likely today since this is the medical term for 'Writer's Cramp'. This is a painful spasm of some of the muscles in the fingers and the hand itself caused by writing for too long without a break. I realise that most writers do use keyboards, but there are still many writers out there that draft their articles, poems or stories by hand before transferring them onto a computer.
  • To prevent this painful condition it's simply a case of ensuring that you don't write for long periods of time without taking a break. In addition, be aware of how you hold your pen or pencil - try not to grip too hard.

Repetitive strain/stress/Injury (RSI)

This of course is not a new condition and is part of nearly every company's Health & Safety book. However, as a writer have you thought about the risks to you of developing this condition? RSI is a name given to a number of painful conditions that affect various areas of the body - usually the neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, hands and fingers - due to repeatedly using the same part of the body for long periods of time without adequate breaks. The muscles, tendons and soft tissues can all be affected and the pain can be so bad that people have had to stop doing the task that caused it. In other cases people have required surgery to try to correct the damage caused by RSI. The prolonged use of a keyboard and/or mouse is a prime culprit for causing damage to the hands, wrists, elbows, arms, shoulders and neck.

The most common reasons for RSI developing are:

  • The same part of the body is doing the same tasks repeatedly over long periods of time without a break. This leads to small but continual friction or injuries that continue to build up. This has a cumulative effect leading to significant trauma.
  • Posture - the way that a person is sitting or standing can add to the risk of RSI developing.
  • Seating and other furniture - the wrong height of a chair, the wrong type of chair that gives little support, tables that are too high or too low, furniture or layout that doesn't allow the wrists to rest while typing can all add to the RSI condition.
  • Stress - when we work under pressure we consciously or unconsciously tense our muscles up. This also leads to damage to the muscles and general body pain.

Symptoms:

There are two types of RSI - type one and type two.

  1. Type one - this is where a well-defined condition has developed with specific symptoms. For example tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome. Although they can develop in people who are not carrying out RSI movements, the vast majority are noted in people such as those who use keyboards for significant periods of time. With RSI type one there is also often inflammation, swelling of the tissues and nerve compression problems.
  2. Type two - in this form of RSI there is not a well defined set of symptoms that can make a precise diagnosis. Often referred to as 'non-specific pain syndrome' it can nevertheless be debilitating and painful.

To help with RSI or to avoid it you need to look firstly at the way your office at home or in the workplace is set up. Buying suitable, supportive comfortable chairs and furniture is extremely important if you sit at a keyboard for any length of time. These needn't be expensive to buy. There are some excellent quality office furniture that you can buy second hand.

You also need to take frequent breaks away from using a keyboard and/or mouse. My own method is to take at least a couple of minutes away from the keyboard every 15 minutes and longer breaks of at least half an hour - preferably more - to have lunch, go for a walk or do some exercises.

If you find you already have pain then there are plenty of pain relief medications you can use. However, pain relief is only masking the problem. If you dull down the pain you are more likely to continue putting your body through the very acts that are causing the pain in the first place. If very painful you might need to speak to a doctor and/or physiotherapist. There are also very easy exercises that can be carried out when having short breaks from the keyboard that greatly reduces the chances of RSI developing and can help to ease the pain.


Posture

The position that you constantly have you spine, neck and shoulders in while working can have a damaging effect on your body and internal organs. As writers, we do of course spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer that could potentially lead to painful and serious back problems in particular. However, there is so much information giving different advice and viewpoints, that it can be confusing to figure out what you should be doing to keep a good posture. Basically, if you are sitting with a posture that is healthy, then you will experience very little discomfort or stiffness. You're aiming to keep the spine in it's natural curvature so that it properly supports the body while you work. In addition, although experts don't agree on issues such as the proper angle for elbows and knees, or monitor distance and height for the eyes, there are a few things that they do all agree on:

  • The chair that you use should be adjustable and ensure that it supports the lumbar area of your spine - this is the the area just above the buttocks. Your feet should be on the floor or on a footrest. If you find that your chair is not suitable but can't afford to buy one, there are chair raisers you can buy, that give your spine support as well as raising the height at which you are working. Most of them are just placed or strapped onto an existing chair.
  • Try to get a desk that is big enough for your forearms to rest while you are working with the keyboard or mouse.
  • If you find any discomfort while using the keyboard and/or looking at the monitor screen, then these may need to be adjusted to a a more suitable height and/or position.
  • Position the computer in an area where you can stop glare on the monitor.
  • Take regular breaks. This means getting up off the chair and away from the computer. Not only will this prevent stiff muscles and joints, but also help to prevent fatigue, eye strain and headaches.


Haemorrhoid's

This painful condition is only a joke to those who have never suffered form them! One of the causes of haemorrhoids is sitting too long. People who have to work sitting at a desk for example, are at higher risk than jobs that allow people to move around.

Weight

It goes without saying that when your job is writing and your sitting down for a good part of the day, there may be a tendency to put on the pounds! As mentioned earlier, take breaks from sitting down but also ensure that you are involved in other activities away from the computer - preferably activities that will help to burn off a few calories and keep your heart and circulation healthy.


We'll now take a look at another of the most important health issues - your eyes.

Eye Strain Poll

Do you or have you in the past had problems with your eyes and/or regular headaches when using a computer?

See results without voting

How are your eyes affected by using a computer?


“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
― Ernest Hemingway


Eye strain and headaches.


Even with modern technology computer screens, especially after working for some time, can cause your eyes to become strained. Research studies have shown that computer workers suffer a 50 to 90% incident of eye strain. This form of eye strain even has a name 'Computer Vision Syndrome', (CVS).

In addition it's not only adults who are affected, but children who use computers at school, then at home and also use portable video games are developing CVS symptoms. Basically CVS is the same as repetitive stress injury but it occurs in the eyes. Researchers believe that one of the reasons for CVS is because we often have to look away from the screen - for example at notes - then back to the computer monitor and this involves the eye having to work hard to continually re-focus. There is no evidence as yet, that CVS will cause long-term damage, but research continues. The main symptoms are:

  • Neck pain and headaches
  • Eye irritation including dry and/or itchy eyes
  • Blurred and/or double vision


As we can see there are a number of problems that can arise from eye strain and in addition this will increase the tension in your muscles as well as cause fatigue. There are a few steps you can take to minimise the risk of eye strain:

  • You need to cut down the glare that is created on your computer monitor from light sources such as the sun coming through a window, over head lights, desk lamps etc. You can do this by re-positioning your monitor to move it away from glare or use shades/blinds at the windows. You can also purchase glare filters that fit over the monitor. You can also try adjusting the brightness and contrast settings of your monitor to make it more comfortable to look at.
  • Using a stand for notes/printed papers that you might be typing from, cuts down on the work the eyes have to do and also reduces the times you are bending your neck and up again to the screen. Make sure your monitor is at a distance and height comfortable for you. If you are straining to read the words on the screen, then using 'ctrl' and '+' keys on your keyboard increases the size of the print. Keep increasing until you are at a level that is comfortable.
  • As with the rest of your body, give your eyes frequent breaks away from looking at computers.

Writing for the most part is an enjoyable form of pastime or work. Looking after yourself physically will make it even more of a pleasure. However, if you are worried about any of the issues raised in the article please speak to your doctor. This article is for information only and is not a substitute for seeking medical advice.

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Comments 34 comments

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii

I had never really thought about it, but what you say is true. I worry about my eyes staring at a screen all day, but sitting at a computer desk can lead to bad posture and typing can injure you, too! It's funny how the most mundane-seeming things can still carry some risks.


Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 3 years ago from Oklahoma

Very valid points! I've noticed that since I switched to a laptop my hands get tired faster, because I have to hold them a different way to keep from bumping the touch pad. Simply switching back and forth between typing and hand-writing seems to alleviate that problem.

Great advice for writers! Voting and sharing!


femmeflashpoint 3 years ago

Seeker,

This was great! And I had to smile through all of it because, I'm in complete agreement with Hemingway!

Earlier today, my sister/business partner loaned me her drafting table to work on. We've adjust it so it's at a perfect height for me to stand and write at.

I have a custom-built desk in Texas that I love dearly and am very emotionally attached to. I'm not keen on writing on anything else. However, I believe it can be augmented to accommodate this new work-stance (literally), when it arrives, with the rest of my furniture, over the weekend.

Sitting constantly does indeed have negative effects on both my energy levels and my physique. I find if I stand while I work, I'm more alert, more awake and I don't get stiff, lol. (I just HATE it when that happens, lol!)

I'm also less likely to knock my coffee cup over on my keyboard ...

After setting up my new temporary-work space, my sister and I have discussed the addition of a new stool, of sorts.

Since I have no intention of using anything that will put pressure on the backs of my legs, we have decided the very best sort of a stool for me to use will be an English saddle, converted to mount on a rolling pedastle.

How's that for creativity? If I do need to sit for a while, I may not be able to keep one of our horses still enough for me to work on, but a saddle-on-a-stick (so to speak) will work perfectly! If I want to, I can even slide my boots, or sneakers, into the stirrups.

Excellent article, Seeker. Maybe you'll start a new rage in seeing how many ideas the hub writers can come up with for the perfect writer's station seating. :)

My second choice was a cycling saddle, but the English saddle just came across as way more fun. :)

femme


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

what a great hub I actually never thought of health problems that can affect me as a writer :) I guess the sitting and hemorrhoids should have been clear..LOL thanks for the share


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Natashalh.

Many thanks for stopping by and glad that you found the hub useful.

I know what you mean, even the most simple of things like not sitting properly, not standing properly, not holding things properly can cause so much damage it's actually quite scary when you think about all little bits of injury and stress we have been causing over the years.

I do worry about my eyes as well with the computer and I know when my eyes start to get tired that I've done enough and have a good break away from the computer screen.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Sharkye11, many thanks for stopping by and for leaving such an interesting comment. Now that about your laptop is really interesting. Do you think also it's the way the laptop keyboards are designed? I find typing on a regular computer keyboard actually easier - especially for my wrists - than a laptop!

I think the fact that you switch between the two is great, its obviousl giving your muscles, tendons and joints rest in between each separate activity.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

LOL!!!!! Hi Femme - lovely to hear from you and thanks for making me laugh and bringing a huge smile to my face when I read your comment - awesome!!!

Why don't you write a hub about this yourself? I think it would make fascinating reading for all us writers looking for the perfect bum prop! Creative - yes, you definitely get a 10 out of 10 for creativity I would never have thought about anything so ingenious! I was laughing as well about keeping your horse still while you work - I wonder how this would work for stimulating the good old muse? Only hope you don't end up with saddle sores!!!LOL!! I would also go with trying the stirrups when you write and see how fast your typing speed is - you might start a new trend!!!

On a serious note though, I hate any kind of seat that squeezes on the back of my thighs and makes the bottom half of your body numb! I had a second hand office chair years ago that did that. I sat for far too long ignoring the warning signs until the pins and needles started! My God! I was crawling on my knees for about 10 minutes until the circulation came back - not a pretty sight or a pleasant experience!!

You'll need to let me know how your saddle experiment works - I'm dying to know how you get on!!!


kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 3 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi Helen great hub and very interesting and informative, one never thinks there may be any health problems just sitting at the computer writing. Well Done !

Vote up and more !!!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Tom, many thanks for the lovely comment and glad that you enjoyed the hub. It seems that even the simplest of jobs all have their hazzards - even just sitting typing!!


Gordon Hamilton profile image

Gordon Hamilton 3 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

Hi,

Lots of wonderful information here and as a former Health and Safety Rep with particular regard to DSE (Display Screen Equipment) I know your advice is sound and more than worth following. I hope people take this as a heads up before they have to suffer what can be very unpleasant consequences.

On the other hand, your Hub has also given me a wake up call. I am guilty of so many bad habits, such as working different hours every day, working all night and sleeping most of the day, drinking coffee by the gallon and eating once a day... The list goes on. I definitely need to revise my lifestyle.

PS - I didn't know about/hadn't considered the haemorrhoids bit - so will definitely be typing standing up from now on! :)


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

I have been doing a desk job for the past year and a half, and am starting to have issues with my right hand due to the constant use of the mouse. When I got a new computer, the mouse that came with it was different and that has seemed to help, now a different part of my hand is hurting! Thanks for giving some ideas of how this can be alleviated.


CountryCityWoman profile image

CountryCityWoman 3 years ago from From New York City to North Carolina

I have destroyed my back by sitting for hours working as a freelance writer. Please make sure you have an ergonomic chair and be sure to get up regularly and take breaks. I've been hospitalized and now need physical therapy. We were never meant to sit for hours at a time on a chair - arrggh! Thanks for a great hub reminding us that there is very much indeed that can affect our health as writers!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 3 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

A good collection of tips and things to watch out for. I'll be getting my eyes checked this weekend - eye strain from a changed prescription is not fun when you spend most of the days in front of the computer, writing!


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 3 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

Guys, they say there are two types of male cyclist, one that is impotent and one that will become impotent. The reason is pressure of the saddle on some of the most vital organs of the body. Bear this in mind if you want to adopt the riding saddle solution above.

I am more concerned about the risk to the eyes than anything. I set the screen font large, even if I do not need it large as the reduced resolution of a laptop increases strain, and try to have a break once an hour. As a software developer some tools do not allow large type so thinking is more important than pounding away mindlessly, which many developers do.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Frank - how are things with you?

Yes, the dreaded haemorrhoids!!! I have every sympathy for anyone who has them - I used to look after guys who would come in for the op (Male Surgery Ward) to remove them and the poor souls would have to sit on cushions with a hole cut out in the middle cause it was too painful to sit any other way. So whenever I'm tempted to sit on my butt for far too long, I just remember the look of agony and the sweat pouring down these poor guys' faces!!!LOL!!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Gordon, many thanks for stopping by and for leaving such an interesting comment.

I think people should take note of the Health & Safety recommendations and equipement that is available for all sorts of jobs and activities. I've always found the booklets in particular to have great information and tips as well. So I salute the job that you did - an very, important one indeed, especially today. I used to be a moving and handling instructor for health care workers and the amount of times I was helped out by Health & Safety Reps regarding queries, equipment and so on was numerous and they were always brilliant!!

I think we're all guilty of doing the worng things when we are writing - with me its certainly the gallons of coffee and then forgetting just how long I have been sitting staring at a computer screen. But to be honest if as writers we find ourselves on a roll or worse having to meet a deadline, we get so focused that we forget about everything else going on around with the result - as you rightly say - food and sleep can go out the window!! So like yourself, while I was researching for this hub I had to think about a lot of things that I was getting wrong!!

Many thanks again for stopping by and for the great comment!


unknown spy profile image

unknown spy 3 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

i find this very useful to everybody not just to writers.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi denise. w. anderson,

many thanks for stopping by and for the very interesting comment. I wonder if using the new type of mouse and the pain you are having is just the muscles re-settling back into position? The way you describe it, the mouse you now have seems to be a better design than the previous one - I find the smaller the mouse, the worse my hand and elbow feels sometimes. But here's hoping some of the tips will work for you!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi CountryCityWoman,

Oh I'm so sorry about your back being damaged and ending up in hospital!! How painful for you!! I hope you get some relief from the physical therapy! I have to thank you though for sharing this experience with everyone. I think when folks actually hear from real people who have suffered then it makes it stick in their mind even more. I agree about the ergonomic chair. I couldn't afford a new one, but managed to try out some from an office building that was shutting down and that made a huge difference.

Thanks once again for sharing your experience, it's greatly appreciated!!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi nifwlseirff,

Many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub. Eye strain is awful period but I think if, like we do as hubbers, it's ten times worse. The computer just seems to exagerate everything!!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi AlexK2009,

Many thanks for stopping by and for the excellent comment. Coming as well from a software developer hopefully more people will take notice of your advice. I do have the font very high as well, especially when proofreading as I feel the strain almost immediately when I'm grammar checking etc. It's also interesting that you mention about your laptop. I do find a huge difference between using the laptop and my general PC. Now I only use my PC for writing and leave the laptop for shorter jobs.

Once again, many thanks for the excellent comment.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi unknown spy, many thanks for stopping by and glad you found the hub useful!!


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 3 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

Thanks seeker7: Last year I was working on a virtual PC from my Mac. I could not work out how to increase the virtualPC resolution and ended with being able to focus close up but not at a distance. This sensation of having the wrong prescription lasted a few hours. Luckily for my vision, but not my finances, the contract ended (amicably and on time) soon after. It may have been eyestrain or something else. Luckily it has not come back.

I use the laptop for everything but I think when I have funds I may invest in a separate monitor for use when at home.

Incidentally I have a tablet which is almost exclusively used as an e-reader and being able to view docs in portrait not landscape format really helps though again I have to use the largest possible zoom.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi AlexK2009, many thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to leave a comment - apologies for the delay in replying I've been up to my eyes in re-decorating the house.

That's a really interesting comment you made and I do have the zoom on quite high. I love my laptop as well but I find the reading not quite as easy as with my bigger PC monitor, even with the writing enlarged. I think from what you say that it was eyestrain you were suffering from and as you say thankfully it only lasted a few hours. Imagine the damage we could do to our eyes if we did this on a regular basis!

Many thanks again for your interesting comment!


nighthag profile image

nighthag 3 years ago from Australia

What a great interesting read that taught me something!

Thanks so much for putting this one together for all of us writers too busy thinking about our next sentence to really worry about the pain starting in our shoulders...

Voting up and sharing on


epigramman profile image

epigramman 3 years ago

Good morning Helen and it's so nice to meet you. It's currently lake erie time ontario canada 5:29am and I just arrived home from work.

My name is Colin Scott Stewart - how is that for a good old fashioned Jewish name? lol lol lol and my mum and dad were born in Stirling , home of Mel Gibson - lol lol (star of Braveheart) Don't worry I know all about the real William Wallace.

I love your most arresting and interesting hub presentation here with world class research and food for thought about what can happen to the writers in all of us.

I used to sit at the dining room table on a lower chair and I hurt my back so now I take the lazy man's approach and sit in my Monty Python's comfy chair and have my laptop on my lap.

Sending you warm wishes and good energy and you are doing tremendous work here with your hubs.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi nighthag, many thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the hub! Yes, I've been guilt of ignoring the pain as well to get an article finished - we always do learn the hard way don't we??? LOL!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi epigramman,

Many thanks for stopping by and for leaving such a lovely comment! Now Stirling - a truly awesome place and apart from Edinburgh, one of my favourite places for history and sheer beauty!

I go with the rule of thumb that if it doesn't hurt then my posture must be find, so if your Monthy Python's chair is comfy I'd stick with it!!! LOL!


Spongy0llama profile image

Spongy0llama 3 years ago from Canada

I have definitely experienced most of this to some degree. I do power yoga and go jogging to help counter it to some degree. I really do worry about my eyes sometimes though. They are so terribly important for me as a reader, writer, scholar, and craftsman.


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi SpongyOllama, many thanks again for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

I can't think of any better technique than yoga to to counter act stress and posture injuries. As with your eyes, yes they are so important and the main thing I do now, as well as taking short breaks away from the computer screen, is to have the fonts large on screen. Many people don't do this since a lot of the screen is lost from view, but if it means protecting my eyes from strain, then having to scroll back and forwards a bit is not much to ask.

Many thanks again for stopping by and for the very interesting comment.


Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

Jo_Goldsmith11 3 years ago

I am so glad I found this article! All of these tips are so helpful. I am getting better at spending some time away from the computer more than I use to. I have implemented the posture and a work area with the monitor at a level where it isn't strain on the eyes. Thank you for sharing the tips to help us writers to stay healthy and do our best work. It does pay in the long term.

Less stress with the medical bills by taking advantage of the advice. Voted this up +++ Shared & tweeted. :)


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 3 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi Jo_Goldsmith, lovely to hear from you again and glad you enjoyed this hub also.

I also developed lower back pain a couple of years back due to sitting incorrectly at the computer and for too long. So I did what I could to rectify the situation as well as taking breaks away from it and it helped a great deal. It's hard to believe that you can actually get injured just by sitting, but it happens!

Many thanks once again for the vote up and the share - it really is appreciated!


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

This is such a useful and relevant hub , especially because this concerns everyone here at HP.

Sitting for long hours while writing, may cause trouble in hand joints, fingers, shoulders, neck or back.

Voted up and shared for everyone' s benefit! Thanks!


Seeker7 profile image

Seeker7 2 years ago from Fife, Scotland Author

Hi ChitrangadaSharan, huge apologies for taking so long to reply, as I was saying to MysticMoonlight, I seem to be constantly playing catch up with everything at the moment. I'm glad that you enjoyed the hub and found some useful information there.

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