How To Avoid Health Problems That Can Affect You As A Writer.
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".
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.
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.
There are two types of RSI - type one and type two.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.