The feast or famine of a successful writing career can mean sitting for hours at a computer. Include the increased usage of mobile phones, and it’s hardly surprising that wrist pain can affect many writers.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, over seven million working days were lost due to work-related muscle and joint problems in 2021/22–with keyboard and repetitive work being two of the top causes.
Repetitive work like typing can cause wrist pain–leading to long-term issues. Continued pain can affect productivity and quality of life, leading to more serious conditions.
This article helps you understand the causes of wrist pain and offers practical solutions to prevent and alleviate it.
Understanding the causes of wrist pain
Writers spend copious amounts of time sitting down using a keyboard and mouse to make a living–often without taking regular breaks.
Wrist pain from typing position can lead to repetitive strain injury (RSI), meaning the gradual build-up of pain and discomfort from repeated movements and overusing muscles in the hand and wrist. Nerves are pressed more than is comfortable, and inflammation within joints and tissues can result in wrist pain.
“Typing with your wrists in an awkward or bent position can also cause pain and discomfort. Another cause of wrist pain from typing is the use of a laptop or tablet. These devices don’t provide the same support as a desk keyboard and can lead to improper hand and wrist posture, resulting in pain and discomfort.” –Dr. Nathan Fisher, Chiropractor at Achieve Health and Wellness
Inadequate equipment and poor typing posture can contribute to RSI. Typing while shrugging your shoulders or using an incorrectly positioned computer keyboard and mouse can lead to over-extending muscles. Take steps to improve your posture with ergonomic equipment, such as a mouse or armrest, to support your wrist and prevent inflammation. Writers can reduce wrist pain with good posture–resting arms and wrists at regular intervals.
And that’s a similar view from Chris McDermott, Advanced practice registered nurse at Intercoastal Consulting & Life Care Planning, who says: “Maintaining a proper posture, keep the elbow close to the body and shoulders relaxed; wrist should be straight with light touch on the keyboard. Using an ergonomic keyboard or mouse can also be beneficial.”
Wrist pain from typing can make other conditions worse. Carpal tunnel syndrome, for example, is where the median nerve that passes through the wrist is compressed or irritated.
Carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis are conditions where the tendons swell. If they are trapped in a tissue tunnel, there is no room to swell and the tendons get compressed, along with nerves and blood vessels.Maureen Dwight, Musculoskeletal clinical specialist and clinic director at The Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic
Plus, writers who have other medical conditions, such as arthritis, can make wrist pain worse. Jerome Enad, an Orthopedic surgeon says, “Typing can also cause tendonitis on the thumb side or pinkie side of the wrist. If you have other conditions at the wrist, like arthritis, the conditions can make each other worse.”
While these are some of the most common causes of wrist pain, stress can also be a hidden problem. Since writers deal with the stress of managing and finding new clients, unpredictable workloads, and other challenging factors like feeling isolated, continued stress can worsen wrist pain.
Dr. Jacob, Chief Medical Officer and Co-Founder of Clearing says, “Once inflammation gets a hold, for example, it can affect multiple wrist conditions and can also worsen with stress.”
Preventing Wrist Pain
Focusing on the symptoms of wrist pain alone won’t help you work out what’s causing it in the first place. While treatment is essential, identifying the root cause can help you to lessen the pain from writing.
The best medicine is ultimately prevention, and accordingly, it is important to maintain proper posture, employ appropriate ergonomic strategies, and be mindful of our bodies in preventing hand and wrist pain.Dr. Nitin Goyal, hand, wrist & elbow surgeon, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush
Start by examining your workplace setup. Do you write from a sofa or bed or have a dedicated desk and chair? Make sure your freelance writing space has an ergonomic setup by:
- Using an adjustable desk and comfortable chair to tailor your writing position –reducing pressure not only with wrists but also on the neck, shoulders, and back.
- Avoiding putting pressure on your tendons. Reduce strain on your wrists using a wrist mat, ergonomic keyboard, and mouse. Keep the top of your computer monitor or laptop screen at eye level. This prevents you from working in a hunchback position or scrunching your neck to see the screen—resulting in back pain.
- Taking regular breaks. Set an alarm after an hour or so to get up and move around. Ideally, enjoy some fresh air and get out for a walk. Study upon study has shown the benefits of walking are enormous. From helping to ease joint pain to maintaining a healthy weight, getting out in nature can promote better mental health.
Chris McDermott MSN, APRN-IP, AGPCNP-C, CLCP at Intercoastal Consulting & Life Care Planning supports frequent rest and says, “Take breaks (5-10 minutes) every hour of typing. Stretching fingers or wrist for about 15 seconds.”
A view that’s also supported by Dr. Nathan Fisher, Chiropractor at Achieve Health and Wellness, who advises, “The best way to prevent wrist pain from typing is to practice good posture and ergonomics. Keep your wrists in a neutral position, and use a wrist pad or cushion if needed. Take frequent breaks, adjust the height of your chair or desk, and practice stretching exercises to keep your muscles and joints flexible.”
Eliminate RSI from keyboard use by translating speech into a written format with voice recognition software like Dragon, Otter, and VoiceTyper. Not only is speech-to-text software more productive, giving you up to five times faster typing output than manual efforts, and it can also be used while active, giving you greater flexibility to move around and stretch.
Follow the advice here from medical professionals to prevent wrist pain from taking hold and affecting your writing business–allowing you a career that’s enjoyable, rewarding, and pain-free.
Alleviating Wrist Pain
Wrist pain from typing can be debilitating. Keeping up to date with client projects, and accounts, and finding new freelance writing jobs when you’re in discomfort is hard work.
Plus, constant pain can affect sleep, making you feel tired and unproductive. That said, there are proven ways to soothe wrist pain and make you feel more comfortable–while staying efficient.
Alleviate wrist pain with hot and cold therapy. Ice and heat packs can reduce inflammation, reduce swelling and improve blood flow. Alternating ice and heat therapy every two or three days can provide much-needed pain relief.
Secondly, exercise and movement can support healing by flexing wrists and fingers. Finger exercises, for example, can alleviate pain by stretching muscles and tendons. Make a fist and slowly open your hand. Spread your fingers and repeat. Alternatively, try a prayer stretch by getting out of your chair, bending your elbows, and pressing your palms together. Keep your fingertips up and underneath your chin–in a praying position. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat a couple of times.
“People can relieve this pain by taking breaks from texting and typing. At least every hour for 5-10 min,” says Kristin Kaufmann, Licensed Massage Therapist, MasPaz Massage. “To stimulate blood flow in the wrists, thus reducing pain, I recommend shaking the wrists side to side and up and down. Bending the palms back and forth can help ease tension and pain. One minute in each direction.”
Lastly, using a wrist splint, medication, or prescribed physical therapy can relieve longer-term pain and keep you productive when typing. Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, such as ibuprofen, can reduce inflammation and relieve the symptoms of wrist pain.
Regular breaks for standing up and drinking a little water are helpful for your whole body, not just your wrists. For extra relief, OTC painkillers can help if used sparingly; alternating hot and cold compresses, warm paraffin submersion, or physical therapy may also work for you.Dr. Jacob Hascalovici, MD, Ph.D. at Clearing
Nonetheless, if you have wrist pain from typing that doesn’t ease with the steps we’ve listed here, it’s essential to seek medical advice for further investigation.
If experiencing hand or wrist pain with typing that does not self-resolve, it is important to see a hand and wrist specialist to assess the underlying cause and recommend treatment specific to the diagnosis.Dr. Nitin Goyal, hand, wrist & elbow surgeon, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush
Have a successful writing career and reduce the risk of wrist pain
Given that freelance writers don’t get paid employment benefits, like sick leave and access to free healthcare, suffering wrist pain from typing can impact your income and seriously affect how you view your writing career.
Use the proactive steps we’ve mentioned to prevent wrist pain. Mindful practices and simple adjustments to your workspace can increase your chances of typing in comfort.
Final thoughts. Any pain should be taken seriously. Seek medical attention if pain persists despite taking preventative measures or if it becomes severe.
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Wrist pain FAQ
How do you relieve wrist pain from typing?
Take a break. Have an ergonomic workspace to reduce stress on joints and tendons. Use simple exercises like stretching to alleviate discomfort. Anti-inflammatory medication can give relief. However, seek medical advice if the pain worsens or doesn’t improve.
Why do my wrists hurt from typing?
Wrist injuries from sports, incorrect typing positioning, and overuse of muscles can cause wrist pain. Conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis cause symptoms such as stiffness, tingling, and a burning sensation.
Can you get wrist tendonitis from typing?
Yes. Poor posture and repetitive motions with your hand and wrist, like typing and texting, can cause tendonitis. You can help prevent tendonitis by practicing good writing techniques like resting regularly.
Can I get carpal tunnel from typing?
Possibly. Carpal tunnel is caused by putting pressure on the median nerve in the wrist. However, no scientific evidence suggests writers can get CTS from typing alone. New evidence suggests other reasons for carpal tunnel, like a thyroid problem or pregnancy. Seek advice from a medical professional.