Writing by hand when you have RSI can be an awkward, painful task, but it’s often preferable to using a keyboard. Here are some tips to make it a bit easier.
Use the right pen
Cheap and tacky pens are everywhere. Avoid them. Choose a pen that writes easily – try the Artline “ErgoLine” it has a nice thick grip, and requires very little pressure, as does the Uniball “Micro Deluxe”. Most fountain pens are like this too. Pens with gel ink are generally easy to write with, and it is best to avoid ballpoints. Pen grips, available from newsagents and stationers, are cheap and ease the strain required to hold the pen (though you may need help putting them on the pen in the first place). Another trick is to wrap Bradflex, a type of plumbing material available from hardware stores, around the pen.
A quick alternative is to wrap a bubble-wrap around the pen and secure it with tape or a rubber band.
Adapt your workspace
A slope-board angled at about 10 degrees makes writing much easier, as it minimises neck strain.
Adapt your writing style
One form of RSI, focal dystonia, otherwise known as writer’s cramp, is caused by misfired signals in the brain that make your hand involuntarily cramp. It makes writing painful and jerky.
One way to manage the problem is to write using your shoulder joint, rather than your wrist and fingers. Grip the pen lightly, and move your whole arm to create the letters. Write large letters and use large pads of paper. This requires less fine-motor control.
- Take breaks to allow your hand and arm muscles to relax
- Use printed address labels and get people to help you fill in forms
- Instead of trying to create an imprint on carbon copy forms, use a photocopier to make multiple copies
- If you must take notes, a tape recorder will do it for you. Try and find one with buttons that are easy to operate.
Get a new grip
This grip reduces the tension in the thumb and balances the use of tendons crossing the wrist and small muscles in the hand.
With this grip you hold the pen between the index and middle finger. Mastering this grip requires lots of patience and practice: Bring the tips of the thumb, index, and middle finger together in the most extended position. Now gently insert a pen, separating those fingertips (it is unlikely this is your normal pen grip).
The pen grip test
Dr Hunter Fry says that most of us use more force than necessary when writing. He offers this experiment:
Holding the pen as described above and as lightly as possible, write two or three words slowly on a piece of paper. This will demonstrate how really little muscular effort is required to move the pen. Retain that memory and then compare your muscular effort after writing half a page in your normal way as fast as possible.
Dr Fry’s rough calculation indicated that many writers would use perhaps 100 times the muscle power actually needed.
Only write what you need to
A quirk of modern society is its excess of information. Try to restrict yourself to only noting down important information.
For example, if you’re a student, only write down the relevant points in lectures. Remember that they are supposed to be listened to. You don’t need a record of every word that’s said. If you restrict yourself to only writing down the important points, not only will you save your hand from unnecessary activity, you’ll also develop important listening and memory skills, and probably enjoy the lectures more.
Don’t write at all
Even if you can write for prolonged periods, it’s going to get painful eventually. Of course, when it is painful the best thing to do is avoid it.
- Look at the area you write in – is there enough space, is it free from clutter?
- Would an inclined surface help?
Hints from RSI Association members
|Writing letters and cards||Pen and paper||
|Diary/planner||Pen and paper or Hand-held electronic organiser||
|Note-taking||Pen and paper or Word-processing||
|Keeping a journal/diary||Pen and paper||
|Lists||Pen and paper||
|Paying bills and filling in forms||Pen and paper||
For more information take a look at our Helping Hand sheet on Writing and Pens.
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