Protect Your Wrists: Exercises for Writers

by Jami Gold on December 18, 2012

in Writing Stuff

Exercise dumbbell with text: Wrist Exercises for Writers

Back in August, the keyboard I’d used for forever (about ten years) died. I tried using several other keyboards of various ergonomic configurations, but they all made my wrists hurt by the end of the day.

After weeks of these inferior (to me) keyboards, my right wrist got so bad I had to wear a brace 24/7. Not a good situation for someone who needs to use her keyboard continually. (Especially as I’m allergic to the materials in standard braces, so I had to make my own.) Neither of my wrists even had the stability to hold a book. A book! That alone was torture.

My Tech Guy heard my laments on Twitter and offered to try to fix it. He poked and prodded and called it dead. *sob* I tweeted: “Twitter, it’s official. The keyboard I started with to become an author has died. πŸ™ It needs a funeral.”

See how old this keyboard is? No USB connections.

Of course, by calling it dead, that meant he could try “one last thing.” He washedΒ it. He ran it under the faucet and did all that mixing of water and electronics stuff that’s really,Β really bad. But hey, it was dead, right? How much more dead could it get?

Then he set it out in the sun and let Arizona’s low humidity and 110 degrees go to work. And then… It worked! *cueΒ HallelujahΒ chorus*

I tweeted my joy about my #ZombieKeyboard, and all was right with the world. Not coincidentally, after about a week back on my trusty old keyboard and many, manyΒ exercises to strengthen my wrists, the pain went away. In fact, I was able to remove the brace within two days of getting my keyboard back. *clutches keyboard to chest* I love this hunk of plastic.

I worried about those wrist problems returning in November due to NaNoWriMo. But thanks to the exercises,Β my wrists stayed strong despite my full blogging schedule and 60K NaNo words. Others’ wrists didn’t fare as well, however, so I thought I’d share my exercises with everyone.

Wrist Exercises for Writers (and all Keyboardists)

I take a break every hour or so during heavy keyboarding and spend a few minutes running through these exercises and stretches. Also, when I’m just sitting brainstorming what to type next, I’ll often do some of these in the background.

  • Rolling Wrists

This is just what it sounds like. Roll your hands and wrists around, like you’d do with your head to stretch out your neck. I do about 2-3 full rotations in each direction.

  • Squish Balls

I keep two squish balls (sometimes called stress balls) on my desk in front of my monitors so I always have them handy. One is small and has a Silly Putty-type consistency, and the other is bigger and made of foam. I switch them from hand to hand because the different sizes and resistances create a slightly different exercise. I do about 10-20 repetitions on each ball.

  • Stretch and Tap

I stretch my hand out flat (this is a poor picture because I’d usually stretch my hand back from my wrist as well, but taking a picture one-handed is a tricky thing for a klutz) and then I touch my thumb to my pinky finger. I do about 10 repetitions.

  • Waving Fingers

I start with a flat, stretched out hand like in Stretch and Tap, and pull each finger and thumb down in order, starting with the pinky, like a wave. After I pull the thumb in, I open the fingers in a wave, again starting with the pinky finger, and end up in the flat position. This close/open wave motion twists and stretches the wrist in a way that doesn’t usually hurt no matter how sore my wrist is. I do about 10-20 repetitions.

  • Claw Stretch

I curl my fingers into a claw, and then I pull my fingers and thumb back as far as I can. You’ll feel this one in your wrist, big time. It’s evil. The last picture shows this position from the front to show how the fingers are spread out from each other too. I hold this stretch for about 5 seconds, release, and then repeat for about 3-5 repetitions.

(Thanks to my Tech Guy for sharing this Claw Stretch exercise with me. As a computer geek, he spends as much time on keyboards as writers do. He used to have to wear a brace, and this exercise helped him escape that situation.)

These are all really quick exercises. We can do them while we’re sitting, while we’re thinking of the perfect word choice, or while we’re brainstorming our next scene. In short, we don’t have any excuses not to take care of our wrists and be able to write for years and years. *smile*

Do you worry about heavy keyboard use and your wrists? Have you tried wrist exercises before? Do you have any questions about these exercises? Do you have any other wrist exercises to share?

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35 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Buffy Armstrong December 18, 2012 at 7:08 am

Great list of exercises! As you know, I found myself with achy wrists during November, which was no fun and didn’t help me contribute to my word count. The one thing I did learn is, if I feel twinge, it’s best to wear my braces. Better safe than sorry. Now I’m going to ad a regular exercise plan to the mix. Suck it, weak wrists!

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Jami Gold December 18, 2012 at 8:23 am

Hi Buffy,

Yes, and you know how much I felt for you because you were one of the main people I’d talked to about my wrist pain last August. πŸ™

For me, braces are tricky because of my allergy. I have to use the metal strip from a normal brace, a thin towel, and a couple of double-sided velcro strips. LOL! So I’m big into prevention now. πŸ™‚ Thanks for the comment and I hope these help!

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Juli Page Morgan December 18, 2012 at 7:14 am

Several years ago I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome – severe in my right hand, moderate in my left. I’m pretty sure my left has now progressed to severe even though I’ve not had it tested (because the way they tested my hands/arms/wrists flippin’ hurt! LOL) At the time I was diagnosed they suggested braces. Those lasted about a week before I chose pain over loss of mobility, so I started doing almost all of the exercises you listed, and they really, REALLY help! I don’t have the squishy balls, though, and will have to get those. My current computer doesn’t help since the keyboard is evil and out to get me. (Can’t rest my hands anywhere on the computer or the cursor goes crazy and I end up typing in the middle of a word in another paragraph, or it will arbitrarily highlight a section of text and one keystroke will delete the whole thing!) I have an external keyboard that looks a lot like yours (except it does have a USB connection) and I use it when I’m at my desk, but when I have the laptop in another room I have to keep my hands away from the laptop and just type with my fingertips. If I ever find a laptop with that split keyboard design I will buy it and hug it and love it and call it George. πŸ™‚

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Jami Gold December 18, 2012 at 8:34 am

Hi Juli,

Yes, carpal tunnel is my big fear. As I mentioned to Buffy above, I’m into prevention now.

Would you believe all those keyboards I tried (except one) were the split keyboard design? I tried the “new and improved” version of my same keyboard. I tried fancy this and fancy that. I think the problem was all of their keys were too stiff, and it took too much pressure to type. I don’t know if my old keyboard started out that way or is just broken in like the perfect pair of jeans, but this one works for me. πŸ™‚ I also use a computer chair that has arms, so only my fingertips ever touch the keyboard.

My laptop does that cursor-jumping thing, and you’re right–it’s very annoying. I think it’s the touchpad. I’ve never heard of a laptop with a split keyboard design, so if you find one, let me know. I want a George too. πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee December 18, 2012 at 7:14 am

Depends on what causes it. In my case, my wrist cramps are caused by a specific muscle with a trigger point just under my elbow (on the inside). So I have some basic fabric-covered braces for tennis elbow and for wrists (for when it’s really bad). I’ve also mixed up my own salve to soothe it. (Usually olive oil + a few beneficial essential oils + some beeswax to thicken it. I have a tiny 1/4 oz. jar I stick it in.)

Generally speaking, though, when it’s bad, I need to rest. I can get used to any keyboard, but that process of getting used to it can be killer.

And recently, I’ve noticed that my wrist pain is reduced (and even seems to be going away…) when I wear one of my mildly magnetic bracelets. (I bought them because I like the hematite color.)

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Carradee December 18, 2012 at 7:19 am

Oh, and forgot to say my stretch: Bend your hand back at the wrist, but hold back two fingers at the time (skip your thumb). My chiropractor says it’s 80% more stretch, and it specifically targets the muscle that cramps up for me.

Just tried that claw stretch, and that does nothing for me. Granted,that might be related to the detail that my fingers naturally extend further back than most people’s.

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Jami Gold December 18, 2012 at 8:42 am

Hi Carradee,

Ooo, thanks for sharing! And yes, it sounds like your wrist pain might be triggered by a different muscle (as it starts at the elbow), so these stretches might not help as much. Thanks for adding to the list! πŸ™‚

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Jami Gold December 18, 2012 at 8:36 am

Hi Carradee,

Good point! We might need different exercises or solutions depending on the source or location of the pain. Thanks for sharing your tips of what works for you! πŸ™‚

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Amanda December 18, 2012 at 1:06 pm

I’ve got tennis elbow (in both elbows!) from constant mousing. Massage therapy helps, but they also gave me some weight exercises: use a 2 or 3 pound weight. Holding the weight palm down,flex your wrist up, then down. Next, holding the weight, rest your forearm on the outside, like you would if you were about to have a thumb wrestling match. Flex your wrist up, then down, repeat 10 times. Last, turn your forearm so your palm is facing up. Holding the weight, curl your wrist toward you. Repeat 10 times. Do 2 reps on each side.

I really hope those make sense!

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Jami Gold December 18, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Hi Amanda,

Great! I followed those descriptions. πŸ™‚ Often, even a 2-3 pound weight would be too much for my wrists, but I’ll try to work up to that. Thanks for sharing!

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Annie Neugebauer December 18, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Oh, these are great, especially the claw! Thanks for sharing, Jami. Stretching during pauses is much more productive than re-checking Twitter. =)

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Jami Gold December 18, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Hi Annie,

LOL! Actually, I’ll often do stretches with one hand and mouse with the other, so even Twitter isn’t an excuse. πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the comment!

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Emilia_Quill December 18, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Thanks! My wrists get sore once in awhile. I mostly have problems with my eyes getting tired and (espcially this time of the year) dry. An optician told me to stare into the remoteness for 5 mins every 30 minutes to allow my eyes to rest. Easier said than done…

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Jami Gold December 18, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Hi Emilia,

I can relate. πŸ™ My desk faces a corner, so staring off into space means a full interruption. I need to do that more often. πŸ˜€ Thanks for the comment!

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Reetta Raitanen December 18, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Yay for keyboard revival. It’s a bitch to adjust to a new one.

This is a really important topic! Thank you for the tips – and the reminder. I’ve had carpal tunnel syndrome three times now (at two different spots) and I still haven’t learned my lesson. Regular stretches are a must.

When things get bad, the brace really helps. Pain has eased for me after one night sleeping with it. But you need one that supports the right spot. I have two different ones.

I tend to get pain to the big muscle underneath the thumb and it radiates toward the elbow. The movement that helps me the most is clawing all the other fingers but thumb and lifting the thumb up to the roof. Then I move the wrist up and down.

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Jami Gold December 18, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Hi Reetta,

Oh no! I hope you manage to avoid it in the future.

One thing about my homemade brace is that I can adjust it to place the right support and tightness in the right place. We probably all have our different bad habits that create our issues. πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing your tips and for the comment!

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TJ Hollingsworth December 19, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Hi!
I checked this out for my 15yo daughter who does ALL her schoolwork on the computer.
She’s had severe wrist pain on and off for a couple years. The first time it happened was within a month of having a large plastic toy fall on her arm from the top of her closet. I took her to the doctor where they did tests & X-rays etc. and couldn’t determine the cause of her pain.
They have no idea what’s causing it & wont call it Carpal Tunnel (maybe ’cause she’s so young?).
I’ll have her try these & hope they will help, so thanks in advance! And I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for one of those split keyboards!

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Jami Gold December 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Hi TJ,

Oh no! I hope these help. Pain is never fun for anyone, much less for kids. Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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TJ Hollingsworth December 19, 2012 at 4:57 pm

I forgot to mention that she has aspirations of being the next hot new famous poet, so every free moment is spent on the computer writing poetry.
My girl is nothing if not ambitious and dedicated,LOL.

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Jami Gold December 19, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Hi TJ,

(Okay, I found the missing comment and deleted the “ack” one. πŸ™‚ I probably accidentally deleted it when I was trying to reply to you on my phone. Oops–sorry! *blush*)

Oh yes, I know those types. Er, that’s not much different from me spending every moment on the computer. πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the comment!

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Vanessa December 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Hi Jami

I really like this post! I am a student and a writer, so I do spend a lot of time on the keyboard which is why I also have a keyboard similar to yours except black. I’ve found stress balls to be the best solutions.

Thanks for letting me comment!

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Jami Gold December 19, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Hi Vanessa,

I tried at least one of the black ones. I had no idea I was this picky about keyboards until I didn’t have a choice. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Melinda S. Collins December 20, 2012 at 6:08 am

Hi Jami,

These exercises are wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing! Wrist issues have never really been what’s bothered me when it comes to the computer. It’s when I have to write by hand that kills not only my wrist, but my entire hand (and especially the thumb). For the computer, and like a lot of us out there, we’re on the computer for our day jobs about 8-10 hours a day, then we come home and get back on it for a few more hours at night, so my issue that I’ve recently ran into is extreme soreness in my neck and shoulders.

My boss recently had me take an ergonomics class that our company offers, and it was so great that I printed everything out and made my own little binder of ergonomics. LOL! I was also thinking about sharing what I learned on my blog too….as soon as I can get back up and running in a week or two.

Two additional exercises that I learned from that class, specifically for wrists that I enjoyed as well, were the Finger Tent and the Hand Dangle. Finger Tent: spread your fingers and touch fingertips. Press the hands together lightly, enough to feel a gentle pull in the palms and palm side of the fingers. Hand Dangle: From a sitting or standing position, let your hand drop to the side and gently shake for 5 seconds, relaxing your entire arm. <– This one's great for removing the tension from your hands, wrists and forearms.

Thank you again for sharing these great exercises!

P.S. – Sorry I've been so absent from social media for the last two months! Man, I missed it sooooo much! Especially your always-helpful-and-insightful posts! But the good news is we're closing on our new home tonight and we'll be completely moved in by next weekend. So I can start getting caught up soon! πŸ˜€

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Jami Gold December 20, 2012 at 7:47 am

Hi Melinda,

Writing by hand–yes, I understand that one. A big reason I put off sending Christmas cards is because of needing to address the envelopes (which I can never get the printer to do correctly). LOL!

I’ve had to learn to be very conscious of hunching my neck and shoulders, and some activities make it worse. I’ve trained myself to push my shoulders down and my head back when I’m typing, but when I’m doing heavy mouse-work, it’s a losing battle. πŸ™‚

Thanks for sharing your exercises! And moving during the holidays? You’re brave! πŸ™‚ Good luck with your house closing! *hugs*

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Sarah Laurence December 24, 2012 at 7:18 am

I’ve just printed this out to pin above my laptop. A physical therapist told me to do the finger touch exercise underwater in the tub to add gentle resistance.

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Jami Gold December 24, 2012 at 8:45 am

Hi Sarah,

Oh, interesting! I wouldn’t have thought about that method of resistance–as we do need it to be very gentle. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the comment!

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Linda May 30, 2013 at 6:26 am

While not a wrist exercise, switching to the Dvorak keyboard layout saved my wrists. I was starting to get wrist pain when I switched layouts around the late 90s. It went away and has never come back. I can type for hours with no problems.

It took about three months to get fluent touch typing with the different layout. I type faster than I ever did using the standard QWERTY keyboard, which is a nice bonus. I put a chart next to my computer and looked at the chart while I typed. Eventually I memorized it the same way I did originally.

Windows and Mac both have the software. I’m sure an internet search will tell you how to switch to it, if you want to try it. You can switch back if you decide you don’t like it. And you can set it up to switch back easily if someone else is using your computer.

Thanks to Margaret Fisk for linking to this article. It’s very useful and I hope my unasked for advice might also help people.

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Jami Gold May 30, 2013 at 9:47 am

Hi Linda,

Interesting! I’ve heard of the Dvorak keyboard but have never tried one. I usually don’t struggle with slow typing speed, so that bonus wouldn’t be a big deal to me. Another option for dealing with pain is always good though. πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing and for the comment!

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Johnny Null October 2, 2014 at 11:27 am

I can recommend the aikido wrist stretches. They’re up on teh YouTubez.

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Jami Gold October 2, 2014 at 11:53 am

Hi Johnny,

Interesting! I’d never heard of these before (I’m too much of a klutz for martial arts πŸ˜‰ ). Just doing a quick search for “aikido wrist stretches YouTube” brought up several videos, including this one labeled “The Five Best.” πŸ™‚ Thanks so much for sharing!

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Leona November 23, 2014 at 9:23 am

Hi πŸ˜€ I do these exercises as well! The other thing I do is wear craft gloves. I use them for everything like crocheting, etc. One more exercise that I do is to rub my wrists with the full hand of the opposite hand and turn them round and round. It rubs both hands, sort of like kneading bread. It helps to “warm up” both hands. Then, about the time you’re doing claws, open and closing and opening and closing.

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Jami Gold November 23, 2014 at 9:53 am

Hi Leona,

Hmm, I’ll have to look into “craft gloves.” I can’t wear the normal neoprene wrist braces, so it would depend on whether these use neoprene in the fabric.

Oh! I love the idea of doing warm-up exercises too! πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by!

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