I used to be the silent suffering type. Thirteen years ago, I recovered from brain surgery on nothing more than Extra Strength Tylenol four times a day. I dragged myself from a wheelchair and flopped around in a freezing swimming pool, hoping perhaps one over-achieving brain cell might like to try its hand at walking. I slurred my words into the poor ears of anyone who would listen, simply to improve my speech. Never a complaint slipped past my lips. Never a whine. Not one moan.
Boy have times changed!
I complain with the best of ’em now. I’ve even just today ordered a Stephen Colbert WristStrong bracelet with the hope that someone … anyone … might ask me about it so I can legitimately whine on ad nauseum about my wrist.
Until I receive my red plasticness WristStrong bracelet, however, let me pass on some good information about repetitive wrist injury. Writers … yes, you who spend a good deal of time at your keyboard … are particularly at risk. So, sit up and take note. Believe me, prevention of wrist injury is well worth the trouble it takes to follow these simple admonitions:
1. Stay Healthy
Maintain a healthy body weight and a good cardiovascular system. An unhealthy body causes stress everywhere. Add that to any environmental stressors and you may have a problem. (I’ve been mistakenly under the impression that zoftig is the new beautiful. Wrong! Repeat after me — treadmill and light weights. Treadmill and light weights.)
2. Stay Strong
Keep your wrist, arm, hand and fingers strong. It is harder to overuse something if it is normally worked harder. Strengthen the muscles involved and increase flexibility through stretching. (This is hard for those of us who live in writer’s caves with pasty skin and sagging muscles.)
3. Don’t Break the Wrist
Lay the outer part of your forearm on a hard surface. Let it rotate inward naturally. Keep your wrist straight. That is the natural wrist position. The palm should be at a 30-45 degree angle and the fingers curled. Keep that position whenever possible. Flexing and twisting of the wrist causes all the tendons and nerves to rub over leverage points at the joints which can cause a lot of problems. (Yeah, tell that to my computer who doesn’t seem to give a darn.)
4. Use Your Muscles
Control the movement of your hand and fingers through muscle use not tendon/ligament use. One big problem with typing on keyboards is the lack of strength needed to press a key. This causes you to simply start a motion of the finger and let momentum carry it through. This can cause minor hyper extensions and wear and tear on the tendons and nerves. Musicians are prone to this as well, due to the speeds they need to achieve. Developing strong fast twitch muscles is a better alternative. (What are strong fast twitch muscles? Can’t I just go buy them? Didn’t I see a sale on fast twitch muscles at Target?)
5. Take Breaks
Take regular breaks to relieve stress. Take this opportunity to stretch and increase blood flow. You should break for at least 10 minutes for every hour of continuous work with 30 second micro breaks every 10 minutes. Performing a warm up and cool down stretch will help as well. (Breaks! Now you’re talkin’ MY language.)
6. Change Positions
Change your position and posture regularly. Change of position will call in different muscles, kind of like a relief pitcher, letting the first group rest. (Change position, as in go to the nearest coffee shop for a double espresso latte? That kind of position change? Cool!)
7. Get a Good Grip
Use a proper sized grip for your hand. Look at your natural wrist position again. Now bring your thumb and fingers together until they are separated by the width of two quarters. That is your grip size for holding things. That is your ideal grip for things like handrails or screw guns. Now continue to close your hand until the thumb overlays the first joint of your index finger. That is your grip size for manipulating things with your wrists, things like hammers, shovels or golf clubs. (I’m still trying to figure out the size of rubbing one nickel together. I’m a WRITER, after all.)
8. Maintain Your Distance
When working with your hands keep them in the middle ground, not too far, but not too close to your body. This allows muscles in your arms, shoulders and trunk to help share the load. It also keeps your joints in the middle of their range of motion, which increases blood flow and reduces the flex of tendons/ligaments/nerves over those leverage points at the joints. (I’m all for sharing. Anyone have an agent they’d like to share? Hmmm?)
9. Don’t Go to Extremes
Just because your joints can pivot that far does not mean yours should. Do not flex your joints to the edges of your range of motion while working. Most muscles can not maintain control of your body at these extremes which can lead to hyper extension and muscle pulls. It also flexes the tendons and nerves over those leverage points of the joints. (And you say this to someone who wants to overachieve? Someone who wants to publish? Please!)
10. The Low Down
Do not flex upward. The hand is designed to grip, so most muscle control and joint range is aimed at a downward flex. There’s less leverage on an upward flex so the body has to work harder to move that way. The tendons and nerves also have harder leverage points to stretch over. Keep palms and fingers somewhere between flat and the grip position. Keep your typing and mouse click upstrokes as short as possible. Do not use the scroll wheel as that motion is almost entirely upward flexing. (Now they tell me about the scroll wheel. I’ve been a scroller since birth.)
Tomorrow, maybe we’ll talk about the proper beverage grip.