Quick Tips to Help You Avoid 5 Types of Writing-Related Pain
by Colleen M. Story
Are you suffering from writing-related pain?
If you spend considerable time at the computer, you’re in pain now, have been in the past, or will be in the future.
Not encouraging, I know! But after being a professional, full-time writer for over 25 years, I know how painful the job can be.
The key is to adopt safeguards and coping techniques that will keep you writing pain-free.
How to Avoid Writing-Related Back Pain
Lower-back pain often develops because of increased pressure on the lower spine, paired with tight hamstring muscles and weak abdominal muscles—all caused by too many hours in the chair.
Getting a good, supportive chair will help, but it’s not going to solve the problem by itself. Consider these tips as well:
Set a timer and get up and move around every 30 minutes. This helps get the blood circulating again.
Use a coccyx cushion in your chair—one of those that has the hole cut out in the back. This takes the pressure off your spine when you're sitting, allowing it to float over the space. Make sure the cushion is firm—soft squishy ones may feel great for a day or two, but they won't give you the support you need to avoid pain.
Strengthen your abdominal muscles. They support the spine. Situps, planks, crunches, and push-ups are all great.
Stretch your hamstrings. Tight muscles create pain, and sitting (and standing) creates tight muscles. It’s best if you perform some type of stretching routine every night to loosen them up again. For your hamstrings, keep your legs straight and try to touch your toes. Hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds.
Consider yoga. I started it in my twenties and very highly recommend it for keeping you flexible and out of pain. It also feels great after a long day of writing.
Stand for at least part of the day. (Don't stand the whole time—it creates other problems.) Your best option is to switch it up—sit part of the time, then stand part of the time.
Practice good posture. Suck in your stomach! It helps support your spine.
Exercise daily! Movement prevents pain.
How to Avoid Writing-Related Shoulder Pain
Shoulder pain often develops in writers who are using standing desks. They help you avoid lower back pain, but if you haven’t set them up right, you could be exchanging one type of pain for another.
The problem usually originates with the mouse and keyboard. When you’re sitting, you’re taught to have your hands at a 90-degree angle from your arms. That’s fine as long as you’re using arm supports in your chair.
But if you’re standing and you position your arms this way, you’re asking your shoulders to hold your arms in this position for long periods. After a while, you’ll have shoulder pain from muscle strain and overuse.
Common symptoms include pain in the shoulder, pain that radiates down the arms into the hands, tightness and pain in the upper back and shoulder blades, numbness and tingling in the fingers and hands, and pain in the wrist.
To solve the issue:
Lower your keyboard and mouse so your arms hang lower in a more natural posture.
Take regular breaks to roll your shoulders and ease tension.
Do some weight training to strengthen your shoulders. Don’t forget to stretch after each workout!
How to Avoid Writing-Related Hand and Wrist Pain
If you’re using the mouse that came with your computer, that’s one reason why you may be experiencing this type of pain. Another is that you tend to type in a tense (rather than relaxed) manner. Or your hands may be too constrained by a regular keyboard.
Some potential solutions:
Use a trackball mouse that fits your hand and doesn’t require you to move your hand and arm. One like this works great.
Try a split keyboard. It takes a day or two to get used to, but you’ll pick it up faster than you think. It keeps your hands in a more natural position, which eases muscle strain and helps prevent pain in your hands and wrists. This is a good example.
Consider typing gloves. They’re made for those with arthritis, but if you’re experiencing muscle or tendon strain in your hands or fingers, they may help. They provide some compression, increasing blood flow while decreasing swelling and providing support. Something like this.
How to Avoid Writing-Related Hip Pain
Hip pain related to writing is usually caused by tight muscles around the hip, not the hip joint itself. (If you think you have hip joint problems, check with your doctor.)
If you feel pain on the outside of the hip and upper thigh or even in the outer buttock, that pain is related to muscle and tendon issues. (Hip joint pain is usually felt on the inside of the hip and toward the groin area, and sometimes down in front of the leg toward the knee.)
The muscles and tendons around the hip joint support that joint and enable you to move. The problem is that writers don’t move them very often! We tend to sit or stand for hours at the computer, causing the hip muscles to become tight and short.
They then pull on other muscles—like your lower back and other leg muscles—causing pain in the hips, and potentially in the lower back and knees as well.
Make sure your chair has a flat cushion. Contoured cushions/seats put more pressure on your hips, as the sides press into the hips. Look for a good cushion in a flat seat.
Open up the hip angle while sitting. That means do not sit at the perfect 90-degree angle like that good little private school student. You may have been told to do that, but it puts pressure on your hips. Instead, recline the chair a little, or tip the front of the seat forward to ease pressure on your hips.
Wear supportive shoes while standing. This will help keep your body in alignment, whereas if you’re just working in your socks or bare feet—particularly if your foot pronates or supinates—you’ll be putting extra pressure on your hips the entire time you’re standing.
Sciatica is a unique type of pain that occurs when the sciatic nerve—which starts in the spinal cord in the lower back, travels through the buttocks, and down each leg to the heel—becomes inflamed for some reason. (Often too much sitting!)
The most common symptom is pain that radiates from the lower back to the buttocks and down the back of the leg to the foot. It ranges from a mild, aching pain to a more severe burning sensation, and may sometimes occur as a shocking, jolt-like pain or a throbbing, pulsating pain.
Prolonged sitting usually makes the symptoms worse, while lying down makes it feel better.
Use a standing desk part of the time (to take a break from sitting).
Get up and move around more often.
Use a coccyx cushion (with the hole cut out in the back). Find an example here.
Get the best mattress you can afford. (A supportive mattress can solve a lot of pain problems!)
Different types of pain sometimes require different solutions, but there are a few things you can do to help you avoid all types of writing-related pain.
Use helpful tools. Cushions, chairs, mice, keyboards, standing desks, keyboard stands—these can all help you avoid muscle strain and keep yourself out of pain. They are worth the investment if they work!
Move more often. Movement is oil for your muscles and joints. The more you move, stretch, and exercise, the less pain you will have. Use tools to help you move like jump ropes, walking pads, treadmills, and anything else that makes movement attractive.
Stretch. Yoga stretches all your muscles and helps keep them soft, supple, and pain-free. Yoga also focuses on the spine, keeping it healthy and loose. If you don’t do yoga, a daily stretching routine will help.
Take a walk. Walking gets you moving and increases circulation. It’s one of the best things you can do for avoiding pain. Just be sure to stretch when you get back or your hamstrings will tighten up!
Be “body aware.” If something is hurting, there’s a reason for it. Listen to your body. Adjust how you’re working before the pain gets bad.
Share which safeguards and coping techniques you use or plan to use in the comments.
Why do you write? Get your free quizto find out on Colleen’s website, Writing and Wellness, where you can learn more about writing pain-free.
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Colleen M. Story is a novelist, freelance writer, writing coach, and speaker with over 20 years in the creative writing industry. Her latest novel, The Beached Ones, released from CamCat Books on July 26, 2022. Her previous novel, Loreena's Gift, was a Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others.
Thank you for the great tips, Colleen! I need to try one of those coccyx cushions. My biggest challenge is moving more. When I get in the flow, I don't even hear the timer intended to remind me to move. Now, I'm trying a timer across the room. lol
Ha ha. That sounds like a great idea, Lynette! And those cushions save me. I have them for my car too!
These are all great suggestions, Colleen. I really need to work on sitting less than I do. Although a good chair and daily yoga helps.
I think I might try Lynette's suggestion of a timer that I'd need to walk to in order to reach it.
Thanks, Ellen! Yes the moving really is key. With every year that passes I realize that more!
Great post, Colleen. Now I just some ways to deal with the mental pain that comes from writing!
Ha ha. Thanks, Eldred! Yes that's another post. 🙂
Thanks, Denise! Wishing you pain-free writing. 🙂
I love this post, and I think I need a coccyx pillow! I have a unique challenge -- I have a clotting disorder and need to have my feet up when I'm sitting. This puts a lot of strain on my lower back sometimes, so I have learned to stretch and move pretty often.
My other problem is I often slouch when I'm deep in the writing zone. Do you have a correction for that bad habit?
Thanks, Jenny! Oh yes, I can see how that would strain your back. I found a back brace that saves me (talk about it here with link: https://youtu.be/ILAwMGGVlqQ) that might help? I also just got a folding treadmill (easier to hide away) with a desk over it that I'll be talking about on Writing and Wellness that I LOVE for working while taking pressure off the back. (NOT ridiculously expensive either like many "treadmill desks.")
As for the slouching, a friend of mine recommended the "posture shirt" (here: https://alignmed.com/). He swears by it for helping posture/prevent pain while writing.
This is fantastic information! Thank you! Years ago, I worked for a chiropractor and he could tell me where my monitor was positioned based on touching my neck. That was the first I'd learned about ergonomics, but his help has made a big difference for me. All of my screens are arranged carefully. But now I'd like to transition to doing more standing. I don't move enough... but I have got a little elliptical under my desk that helps me get some movement.
Wow that's amazing, Lisa. Smart to be careful of the positioning of the screens--phones put strain on our necks too. Yes the moving really is the best solution of all. I have a full-sized treadmill in the basement, but just recently got the new (smaller) one I was telling Jenny about to have in my writing area and I'm loving how much it's helping me to move more (while working) and how it eases back and leg pain. (Will have a post on WW on that on 4/18). Good luck!
Good suggestions, Colleen.
The trackball mouse you link to is right-handed. (We live in a dextronormative world, alas.) Can you---or any reader or commenter---recommend a left-handed mouse? They are not hard to find, but a personal endorsement would be helpful.
Thanks, Anna! I haven't tried any left-handed ones, obviously, but I do see that Amazon has a couple with several good reviews on them. Economical enough to try? And you can still rest your hand on them. https://www.amazon.com/ELECOM-M-XT4DRBK-Wireless-Trackball-Left-Handed/dp/B016QCPRBM