Sunday, August 28, 2011

When Writing Hurts

The primary focus of this blog is on writing for health, but sometimes writing can damage your body, if not your health. This is a lesson I’ve learned the painful way over the last several weeks, which has a lot to do with the lack of posts recently. Perhaps some of my insights in this matter can spare a few others similar pain.

Many times over the past ten years or so if I spent too much time over a period of days using my mouse intensively, for example becoming engrossed in marathon photo editing sessions, I’ve developed a condition I call “mouse shoulder.” The clinical diagnosis is probably an inflammation or strain of the rotator cuff. The best cure I found was to do something else for a few days to let my shoulder heal. Using a clipboard in my lap is a good preventive measure for mouse shoulder.

Recently I failed to pull out the clipboard for a prolonged document editing session that involved heavy mouse usage. My little finger became very sore, and the pain spread through my entire hand and began working up my arm — very bad news! Before running to the doctor, I analyzed the situation. I was using a chair with no arm. I switched to a chair with arms. That helped somewhat by supporting my hand. But it still hurt. A lot.

Last winter I noticed that my hand hurt a lot because the room I work in is cooler than the rest of the house and the surface of my desk was cold. I bought a pair of fingerless gloves. That helped. Now I decided to use the glove to reposition my hand. I stuffed the finger tip cover with a bit of bubble wrap, then placed it inside the glove under the base of my thumb to rotate my hand outward into a slightly more normal position. That helped too.

Thinking that a total change of hand position would help even more, I ordered a Salient Pen Mouse. That product has not proven satisfactory for me, though many others love it. I’ll use it now and then for variety, and as a controller for PowerPoint presentations in class.

I have a clunky old graphics tablet that I used in my lap for a few days while my hand healed. That did reduce hand strain, but it’s not something I want to use all the time. I’m hooked on my scroll wheel and the ability to cover my huge screen with small movements. I have not tried the new Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch Tablet, but it sounds promising, and the price keeps dropping. That might be worth putting on your Christmas list.

Eventually I realized that by placing my mouse on my keyboard tray, lower than the desktop, and hanging my hand from the chair handle, my hand rests lightly on top of the mouse. My little finger remains relaxed (that was part of the problem — I have a British pinkie that automatically rises when I hold things. That finger used to drive my violin teacher nuts as it hovered above the bow). This has solved the hand problem.

The armrest helped my hand, but the chair triggered lower back problems. That evil chair was old, saggy and sat like a hammock. I took a deep breath, gave myself a pep talk, then splurged and bought an amazing new Realspace Pro mesh chair that adjusts to fits my back like a glove and allows me to sit straight with good lumbar support. It was the only chair in any store that did not have a concave back. My back feels much better now.

My keyboard is near lap height on a pull-out tray, and I have a wrist support for comfort while thinking. My mouse is down low, and my hand supported. My back is straight and supported. All is well. If you are spending lots of time at the keyboard, I urge you to take a good look at the ergonomics of your setup and do whatever you can to make your writing environment healthy so your writing can improve your health, not sabotage it.

Write now: check out your desk environment. Can you see the monitor easily? Is your back straight and well-supported in your desk chair? Do you have arms on your chair to support your mouse hand? Do you use a wrist pad to elevate your hands slightly above the keyboard? Is your hand relaxed as it holds the mouse? If you are vulnerable in any of these areas, either innovate to create solutions or treat yourself to some new support. You’ve only got one body. Take good care of it!

Photo credit: Kathryn Greenhill

No comments:

Post a Comment