Friday, January 25

The Writer's Life: Repetitive Strain Injury

The Writer's Life: Repetitive Strain Injury

A couple of days ago I typed four thousand words of fiction, a thousand words of non-fiction, went to bed, and woke up with a useless arm.

Of course it's not completely useless, it can still do essential things like helping me drink coffee, but I can't raise it out to my side. Not without excessive use of colorful language, that is.

So, today, I thought I would offer up my experience as a cautionary tale, one of those horrific stories after-school specials are made about, the ones that make young children afraid to look under their beds. (Or in closets. Beastly things, closets.)

What NOT To Do With Your Mouse

I'm renovating my office so I set up an oh-so-very temporary one in what is basically an oversized storage closet.

It's not as bad as it sounds.

The arrangement has its perks, when I spill my coffee I'm right next to the cleaning supplies! But there's one enormous downside: my desk is too shallow. Actually, my 'desk' is really a deep shelf. If there is a villain in this little morality tale it would be the shelf (cue dramatic music: dun dun dun).

Trust me, my monitor was not designed to sit on a shelf, it has a huge oval base that, while ensuring it would remain upright through a magnitude 8 earthquake, makes it a space-hog. I can't fit both my monitor and my keyboard on my desk-shelf at the same time.

(In terms of plot, this would be the complication. Deciding to move my office into the oversized closet would be me accepting the call to adventure. BAD call.)

My solution: slant my keyboard and monitor so they can both sit on the desk at the same time.

At the time I was proud of myself for making a difficult situation work, but that was the start of my problem because the angle of the keyboard forced me to mouse at an awkward angle.

(Kids, if something feels awkward don't do it!)

A couple of days later a strange stabby, shooting, pain came to live in my right shoulder. At that point I should have put two and two together and realized that my unnatural mousing posture was hurting me.

Ah, nope. I had no clue. I was obsessed with meeting my deadlines so I barely gave it a second thought.

The pain gradually increased until the day I told you about, the day I went on a typing marathon and woke to find my right shoulder on strike.

(You may wonder how I'm typing this, let's just say slings can be very versatile.)

If my tale were a proper after-school special it would have a resolution--my renovations would be finished and I'd have moved back into my office, in a little bit of pain but much wiser because of my brush with RSI.

Here's hoping!

Repetitive Strain Injury And You

You're probably much more savvy than I was about ways to avoid and treat repetitive strain injury, but I thought I'd include a few tips.

Tips for avoiding repetitive strain injury:

1. If it hurts when you do that, don't do that!

2. If you get a shooting pain in your shoulder don't ignore it and hope it'll go away. Figure out what might be causing the pain and fix things.

3. Hot and cold compresses. I had intended this to be a silly list but one thing that has helped me are hot and cold heating pads. Overnight, I have less pain and more mobility. (I'm not saying you should try this, for all I know it could make the injury worse long-term. No medical recommendations here!)

Here are a few articles/sites on RSI I've found helpful:
- Repetitive Strain Injury (Wikipedia)
- RSI Awareness
- Harvard RSI Action
Have you ever had a repetitive strain injury? How did you get it? What did you do to treat it?

Other articles you might like:

- How To Succeed As A Writer: The Value Of Failure
- The Magic Of Stephen King: A Sympathetic Character Is Dealt A Crushing Blow They Eventually Overcome
- Ray Bradbury On How To Keep And Feed A Muse

Photo credit: "Army Photography Contest - 2007 - FMWRC - Arts and Crafts - Son in the Tub" by MAJ Aaron Haney, posted by familymwr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.


  1. Alternating heat and cold for muscle, tendon, and ligament injuries -- that is, inflammation -- is an old treatment. Works well. Does not make the injury worse in the long term.

    For both football (soccer) and track injuries, I did hot whirlpool baths followed by ice water immersions. My nephew is a state champion cross-country runner. After he runs he takes a 15 minute ice bath. Brrrr.

    Try 3 sessions of heat alternated with 3 of cold, 2 to 5 minutes for each session.

    1. Good to know! Thanks antares, I appreciate the information.

      By the way, your handle, is that from the Charlie X episode of the original Trek? In that episode Charlie destroys a Federation Antares-type freighter also called Antares.

  2. When I started my writing career last year, I hit pretty quickly repetitive strain issues. Probably a combination of obsession (8-10 hrs a day writing) and age (mid 50's).

    I found this advice:
    and learned my setup was wayyy out of whack.
    My handyman and Partner Desmond got drafted. Things got banged together, and with a couple of days rest, doing pretty much what Antares suggested my wrist recovered and I haven't had any problems since.

    Happy healing Karen.

    1. Thanks KD! And thanks for the link, I used Evernote to bookmark it.

      I'm glad you're feeling better. There is hope for me yet! :-)


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