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December 18, 2012

Protect Your Wrists: Exercises for Writers

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. 🙁 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 washed it. He ran it under the faucet and did all that mixing of water and electronics stuff that’s really, 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! *cue Hallelujah 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, many 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, 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 on "Protect Your Wrists: Exercises for Writers"

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Buffy Armstrong

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!

Juli Page Morgan

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. 🙂

Carradee

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.)

Carradee

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.

Amanda

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!

Annie Neugebauer

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

Emilia_Quill

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…

Reetta Raitanen

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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TJ Hollingsworth
TJ Hollingsworth

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!

TJ Hollingsworth
TJ Hollingsworth

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.

Vanessa
Vanessa

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!

Melinda S. Collins
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… Read more »
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[…] your wrists hurt after you’ve been typing awhile? Jami Gold has wrist exercises for writers that might […]

Sarah Laurence

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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[…] Some exercises to keep your wrists healthy. Worth trying at least because losing the use of your hands is a nightmare. https://jamigold.com/2012/12/protect-your-wrists-exercises-for-writers/ […]

Linda
Linda

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.

Johnny Null

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

Leona

Hi 😀 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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