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Repetitive Motion Problems for Writers

Updated on April 22, 2015
Here I am at my computer where I spend many hours working on my websites.
Here I am at my computer where I spend many hours working on my websites. | Source

Is Your Computer Killing You? Tips for Writers on Repetitive Motion Injury Prevention

For writers, their computer can be their best friend or their worst enemy. Repetitive motion injuries from computer use are common for writers who spend hours each day at their laptop or desktop computer. In the UK, they are called repetitive strain injuries (RSI).

Since using the computer to write is necessary, the writer usually won't follow the most basic treatment for repetitive motion strain. That treatment is to rest the injured wrist, elbow, shoulder or neck. To give those painful areas a rest, the writer is essentially laid-off and losing income by the hour.

(Photo of Virginia Allain at her writing desk. Taken by CJ Ross)

The best way, of course, is to take preventative steps to not develop a computer-related injury in the first place. I had to learn this the hard way and have suffered through some really painful and debilitating repetitive motion strains.

I'll share here the best tips and techniques that I've researched and learned over the years. Fortunately these really make a difference and it has been years since I've had writer's elbow or wrist pain caused by my computer use.

Don't let your computer get the better of you.

Source

CindyAAvelino created this mouse pad on Zazzle: Grim Reaper Mousepads

Bad Things Your Computer Does to You

  1. A feeling of numbness or a burning sensation in the fingers and the palms. This might manifest itself as a tingling or you might find your fingers and hands feeling clumsy or stiff.

    For me the numbness in my index finger improved after treatment, but seven years later there's still some residual loss of sensation in that finger. The repetitive motion injury caused permanent nerve damage in that finger. It was caused by excessive mouse clicking.

  2. A feeling of weakness in the forearm or a difficulty in gripping things.

    When I had my repetitive computer injury, it got so bad, that I couldn't shift the stick shift in my car with my right hand. I had to reach across with my left hand to shift.

  3. Pain in the neck area.

    In my case, this was from tilting my head to see the computer screen through the lower part of my bi-focal glasses. The solution I took was to get an office desk with the computer dropped down inside it, slanting upward. Some writers solve it by switching to single focus glasses for the time they use the computer.

  4. Pain and difficulty in moving the shoulder.
  5. Pain in the elbow.

    This problem hit me when I had my mouse placed off to the right on my desk. Using it hour-after-hour with my arm at an awkward angle led to severe elbow pain and pain in my shoulder too that lasted for weeks.

  6. Burning eyes from eye strain.

Learn More about Office Ergonomics Here

For more about this, I suggest the University of Waterloo guide to office ergonomics. Learn the proper distance to place your computer screen. How a chair should fit you, the right kind of lighting and other standards for healthy computer use.

Learn the Right Way to Sit at the Computer

Proper computer ergonomics.
Proper computer ergonomics. | Source

I Need to Practice What I Preach

A friend joined me to give me a review on some of my blogs the other day. I sat in front of the computer and she was off to the side.

After a short time of navigating the web, she made an observation that startled me. "You are holding your head at a bad angle," she said. Oops, I've fallen into using poor posture at my computer.

I have a pretty good set-up with a keyboard, big monitor and a mouse connected to my laptop. My desk has a pull-out tray for the keyboard, so that's at the right level.

I find myself leaning forward to see the words better on the screen. Unfortunately with my bifocals, that means I tilt my head at an awkward angle.

Actually if I lean back in my chair, I see the screen well enough. It also puts my eyes at the right angle without tilting my head. From now on, I need to check my posture regularly and not get so caught up in what I'm doing online.

How about you? Are you using good posture with your computer or heading for some computer injuries in the future?

How Many Hours a Day Do You Work at Your Computer? - A survey of writers

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Just step away from the computer... and no one gets hurt...

Get a Funny Shaped Keyboard - Yes, ergonomic keyboards really help prevent repetitive motion injuries for writers

These oddly-shaped keyboards feel strange the first few days, but you'll get used to it quickly. You will especially like the way it makes your wrists, forearms and elbows fall into a natural (less painful) position.

Evoluent VM4 Vertical Mouse Right Handed - Click through to see other Evoluent versions of this

Technical writer, Sherry Fraser Snider reports that she got a "mild case of carpal tunnel in my mouse hand, so I bought an ergonomic Evoluent mouse. I'd used track balls of multiple types before, but I never could quite get the detailed control I liked with them. After about 6-8 weeks of using the ergo mouse (and a compression wrist brace off an on), the problem eventually went away. ...haven't had a problem since."

A Split Keyboard - Ensures proper ergonomic set up

Sherry also advises, "I've used a split ergonomic (Microsoft Natural) keyboard since the 80s. I've upgraded through 3 different keyboard connectors over the years from the big round socket, to the PS2 connection, and now the USB. (I hate using regular keyboards now.) Visitors don't mess with my PC since the keyboard and mouse freak them out just a little. :-)"

Have You Had Repetitive Motion Injury - Related to your writing?

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Learn to Use Your Mouse with Either Hand - Get a mouse that is shaped for use by the right and the left hand both

When I feel my mouse-clicking finger getting sore, I switch my mouse from the right hand to the left hand. Actually most of the time, I use it left-handed these days. The reason is, about 7 years ago, my index finger became so inflamed from overuse that it became numb in the fingertip and about a third of the finger. It's better, but it doesn't take much for it to start hurting.

My fault... as when I first injured it, I knew it was hurting but kept on working for several days on a project with a deadline. With computer injuries, it isn't wise to keep working through the pain. Eight hours of repetitive motion just makes an injury worse. Yes, I made the deadline and we got the grant work done. It took months of pain killers and rest to get that finger back to a reasonably normal functioning.

Try a Roller Ball Mouse - That you roll with your thumb

Lensmaster, Jerrie Dean, writes a popular online column about Missing Persons. She reports, "I had similar complaints years ago but switched to a logitech with a rolling ball. (your thumb moves the ball that moves the cursor) A little bit to get used to but 10 years later I would never go back to the other. I also lowered my mouse to a lower side table and shoulder pain went away."

Trackman Wheel Mouse

Logitech Cordless TrackMan Wheel
Logitech Cordless TrackMan Wheel

My mom and dad preferred this kind of mouse. They were in their eighties and arthritis made a regular mouse painful to use.

 

Where Did It Hurt?

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Videos That Demonstrate the Proper Computer Set Up - to avoid repetitive motion problems

Video 1 - a humorous look at computer ergonomics and some solutions.

Video 2 - explains the proper layout for the desk, computer and chair.

Humanscale Ergonomics

The Freedom Chair That Adjusts as You Move - as shown in the video above

This may be too pricey for the average freelance writer. When you choose a chair for your computer work, be sure to sit in it at the store and try it out. Does it adjust easily to your height and are the arms in the right place. Actually I find arms more of a nuisance than a help, but that's just my personal opinion.

Computing Health and Safety Tips

I know you don't have time for a break, but you'll be sorry if you don't take one.

Take Stretch Breaks and Look away from the Screen

Get up from the computer every half hour or so for a quick stretch. Vary it with different movements. Stretch your arms above your head. Flex the shoulders. Massage your arms.

Look around the room to give your eyes a bit of exercise too. Staring at the screen for prolonged periods cause dry eyes as we don't blink as often while working at the computer.

Take Care of Your Eyes

Your eyes are so important for a writer.
Your eyes are so important for a writer. | Source

Don't Ignore Computer Eye Strain

If your eyes bother you while you're trying to write, I highly recommend Joyce T Mann's page on Computer Eye Strain Treatment. She gives a variety of home remedies for this problem.

  • Since we don't blink often enough while staring at the screen, you can apply eye drops or artificial tears
  • Make sure your glasses prescription is up-to-date. Some people use glasses for computer viewing that are different from their walking around/driving glasses.
  • Too much contrast from the bright screen can be a problem, so don't compute in a dark room. Turn on an overhead light.

Do Your Eyes a Favor and Get a Bigger Screen

Many writers use laptops. Their portability is great when you need to take a computer somewhere. The drawbacks are a cramped keyboard, aggravating mouse, small screen and other ergonomic issues. The solution to these computer issues is to set the laptop up on your desk with a decent sized monitor, a wireless ergonomic keyboard and a wireless mouse. If you are using your laptop on the sofa or the bed, you have additional issues to deal with.

Laptops are great, but make them more user friendly if you are spending 5 to 8 hours a day using one.

ASUS VS248H-P 24" Full HD 1920x1080 2ms HDMI DVI VGA Back-lit LED Monitor
ASUS VS248H-P 24" Full HD 1920x1080 2ms HDMI DVI VGA Back-lit LED Monitor

I can save money on my laptop by going with a small screen on it, then connecting it to a bigger screen on my desk.

Over 2,500 reviewers have given this one a 5-star rating!

 

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© 2012 Virginia Allain

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    • profile image

      MrsCris 2 years ago

      An excellent resource, I learned a few new things and you reinforced others I knew but forgot.

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 2 years ago from Templeton, CA

      I definitely need to do something about my chair. I've used a stack of giant books to prop my monitor to eye level, and that is working pretty well for me. I do get up and do little chores to take a break. But I do need a new chair because this one keeps rolling away from the desk.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 2 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Virginia, so far I've not experienced any of this, except the bit about holding your head wrong. This article is a great help to anyone having these problems. I tend to hold my head wrong, I think because of my eyes. Although I've had cataract surgery, one eye is still not as good as it should be, and I DO tend to tilt my head to favor the best eye.

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 2 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Good chair, properly adjusted, good posture. Take a break every 45 mins and move around.

    • Virginia Allain profile image
      Author

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      @Lady Lorelei: Sounds like a good solution to save your wrists and hands.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 4 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      This is great information for anyone suffering from Repetitive Motion Problems. I have a bad back and can not sit in one place for very long so completely understand this problem. Thanks for the information.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      I am ordering the dragon software out of my next pay so I won't have to type so much. It is going to be a lifesaver.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 4 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I take breaks by playing Angry Birds on the TV and just getting up moving around doing chores. Great tips!

    • bigjoe2121 profile image

      bigjoe2121 4 years ago

      p.s. Dictation software also helps A LOT

    • bigjoe2121 profile image

      bigjoe2121 4 years ago

      Yoga and self-trigger point massage have fixed all of my repetitive motion issues. email me if you want a good book recommendation about self trigger point massage

    • profile image

      Karbyn 4 years ago

      Nice article, with a lot of information that is obviously very relevant for many of us. Thanks!

    • Virginia Allain profile image
      Author

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      @Lady Lorelei: Too much sitting plus poor ergonomic set up can really affect us. I need to take more stretch breaks.

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 4 years ago

      Funny you should write this as, all week, I've been working while lying with my leg propped up in bed. I don't think I've ever felt more comfortable at the computer for 8+ hours! I know it's not right and won't do it forever as that ergonomic chair you have on here is calling me. Nice article.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      I am not sure what hurts the worst on some days. Shoulders, wrists, hips, and hands all get a battering when you work online. Thank god it is a labor of love. Actually I have plans for a different work desk situation next year to try to cure the problem. This year I am just slowing down a little and making do.

    • Virginia Allain profile image
      Author

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      @LisaDH: We bought that software too for my library. We had way too many staff suffering from computer injuries. We had a whole checklist that we reviewed each staff member's computer for proper ergonomic layout.

    • LisaDH profile image

      LisaDH 4 years ago

      At my last job, we had a lot of people with repetitive motion injuries until they brought in some ergonomic consultants and got some software that reminded you to take a break every 30 minutes and provided some simple exercises every time the reminder popped up. It helped a lot.

    • Frischy profile image

      Frischy 4 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      I take frequent breaks. Doing something different is good for your brain as well as your body!

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