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How to Deal with Arthritis & RSI Pain as a Writer

(This is the second post in a series about how arthritis affects writers, and what we can do about it. TL;DR version: I’m doing a writing fundraiser for the Arthritis Foundation and you should donate here if you want to read my next book sooner. Here’s the first post.)

Despite being such a sedentary job (or perhaps because of it), writing can wreak havoc on the body. There’s all the slouching, the mousing, the typing, the banging your head against the keyboard.

(That last one’s not just me, right?)

I’ve been thinking about the affect of joint pain a lot lately. Partly because I’m doing a fundraising bike ride for the Arthritis Foundation later this fall, and partly because bad work habits have got the repetitive strain injury (RSI) in my left wrist rearing its head again.

I’m hardly alone in dealing with pain at the computer, but I’ve definitely got it easy. In researching this post, I came across a number of writers working through some serious pain to create their art:

As part of this blog series on how arthritis and RSI affects writers, I’d like to offer some tips on managing pain — and preventing it in the first place.

I’ll leave any discussion of medical treatments to the doctors. That said, if you’re dealing with joint pain, definitely go talk to your doctor about it. As with most ailments, you’ll have more treatment options the earlier you get a diagnosis.

Note: I’m lumping RSI pain into this post not because it’s related to arthritis, but because I know quite a few authors who deal with it (including myself). Plus, many of the home treatments are the same.

Workstation ergonomics for managing arthritis and RSI pain

Bad computer posture is the root of all evil, folks. From slouching over too-low computer screens to typing at ridiculous angles, non-ergonomic computer use forces your body to contort into painful angles for hours.

For a good primer, check out this post from Arthritis-Health.com. They recommend optimizing your mouse, keyboard, chair, and — of course — your laptop height.

There are a trillion laptop stands out there, but the one I got was the Roost. I love that it’s portable, and that it fits easily both on top of my dresser (aka my standing desk) and on my regular desk. Because my workspace is in our bedroom, I always tidy everything up at the end of the day. The Roost folds up in seconds.

Jessie's ergonomic desk setup

The Roost in action.

Keyboard ergonomics are also important for alleviating pain. Check out this post from the Wirecutter for a comprehensive review of the most comfortable ergonomic keyboards.

(In the end, they recommend the Microsoft Sculpt Ergo.)

Get away from the computer

As the owner of a writing business, it feels like I’m glued to my laptop. I can make things as ergo as possible, but the fact remains that sitting (or standing) for hours staring at a screen and typing words onto a keyboard is dangerous.

So I’m constantly devising ways to get away from the computer.

I use dictation to give my hands a break. It can be annoying at times, but I’ve really gotten the hang of it. (You can read about my dictation journey here.) Along with dictating directly into the computer, I also regularly dictate first drafts of blog posts and scenes while taking walks around the neighborhood.

I just fire up the Dragon Dictate app on my phone and wander through the streets saying things like “Open quote I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse comma close quote said the cap Don period.”

Sometimes people look at me funny, but at least I’m getting exercise.

If dictation isn’t your thing, be sure to take frequent breaks for stretching. This fabulous article from Outdoor Magazine shows you how.

Treatments and pain relief

There is no known cure for arthritis, which is why the work of the Arthritis Foundation is so important. (Donate!). Most treatments for arthritis are aimed at early recognition and prevention.

I can’t speak to arthritis treatments personally, but here are the main things I’ve tried for RSI, ranked in the most effective order. Again, your best bet is to get a diagnosis from a doctor rather than taking the advice of a sci-fi writer on the internet.

  • Myofascial Release — This has done me the most good. My wrist always hurt waaaay worse the next day, but then the pain would be substantially better for weeks.
  • Physical Therapy — This was helpful at the time, but when my insurance ran out I couldn’t afford the treatments any longer. Once I had insurance again I was already loving the myofascial release therapy, so I haven’t been back recently.
  • Acupuncture — I’m not sure it has ever helped with the pain, but I do really enjoy laying quietly while soothing music plays.

Heat and ice are some of the best ways I’ve found to ease aching at home. When I went through physical therapy, my favorite treatment was the heated sand bath. The therapist would bury my arm in sand up to my elbow. I was supposed to flex and stretch through the sand in order to exercise the tendons, but the exercise was secondary to me. The heat was a divine way to ease the pain.

I’ve also heard people recommend heated mice and keyboard wrist pads, though I haven’t personally tried this route yet.

Are you a writer dealing with arthritis or RSI pain? What tips do you have to offer?

Do you want to see a cure for arthritis? Donate to the Arthritis Foundation today. For each $1 I raise, I’ll write 20 words in your honor. I’ll also list you in the honor roll in my next novel.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

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