Dealing with Repetitive Strain Injury

I made this item the last on my list because it is the most difficult to deal with. While everything else can get in the way of your writing, most things won’t stop you dead in your tracks the way RSI does.

I’ve had RSI for about five years now. It gets better, then it gets worse. Sometimes it’s better for an hour, then it gets worse. Sometimes it gets better for a couple of months before it gets worse. Sometimes it gets consistently worse every day for a long time before slowly getting better. It never completely goes away.

Saying no to an extra assignment or night on the pub is challenging, but it gets easier. It’s also a good exercise as once you’re a full time writer, you’ll need to constantly defend your time against people who don’t understand that you’re still doing a job.

Writing through tears is much, much harder and isn’t any good for you when the tears are caused by repetitive strain injury. In fact, unless you have a do-or-die deadline in the morning, it’s probably a good idea to stop when you feel pain, especially if it’s a sharp pain.

If you have repetitive strain injury, your focus should be on preventing pain rather than working through it. If you don’t, you should be taking preventative measures anyway. Doing a few simple things can stop RSI from developing or getting worse. Ergonomic furniture and hand rests are great but can be expensive. I’ve created a list of simple preventative measures you can take with even the tiniest budget. Investing in your health is important, but these are things you can do when you just don’t have the money.

Preventative Measures

Stretch before writing. There are simple arm and wrist stretches you can do before and after you start writing that will keep the pain away. There’s even a website called Desktop Yoga that will give you a visual walk through of these exercises.

If you’re already suffering from RSI, it’s probably a good idea to also do these stretches when you first wake up and before you go to bed.

Take breaks. It’s a good idea to take a ten minute break every hour or two. Get up and make yourself a cup of tea. Stretch out your wrists. Go for a walk. Whatever you do, get away from your computer for a few minutes. Your wrists–and your eyes–will thank you. Those breaks might be enough to keep the pain away and ensure that you can keep working in the long run, so don’t feel guilty about taking a couple minutes away from your work.

You should also take a break the moment you start to feel pain and stretch your arms and wrists out. Often that will stop the pain from getting worse or eliminate it entirely. This is especially important if you already have RSI.

Buy a brace or tenser bandage. If you buy the latter, make sure you know how to wrap it properly. Keep one of these on hand and put them on any time you start to feel pain–and take one of those breaks I mentioned above. Stretch your arms and wrists when you take the brace/tenser bandage off, before you start writing.

Adjust your sitting and sleeping. You might not be able to get ergonomic furniture, but perhaps you could try working on the floor or in a different chair. You could try using pillows as wrist supports. Try different spots in your house until you find a way that you can work comfortably, pain free. If you can’t find or make one at home with your resources, check out your local library or coffee shop and see if you’re more comfortable there.

And if you do feel the pain: stretch it, ice it, rest it. If your pain lasts a long time or is recurring, go to a doctor and see if they can do anything to help you. They might not be able to do much, but it’s worth a shot.

The reality is that we’re all human, and human bodies aren’t indestructible. In fact, they’re quite fragile. These things might not seem important right now, but once you’re in pain you’ll wish you’d taken more preventative measures. And if you have RSI, you’ll need to take more breaks and every once in a while you’ll probably have days where you can’t work at all, but if you take care of yourself you’ll be able to write more often than not.

So make a point of scheduling breaks and memorizing these stretches. Your wrists will thank you.