Like tennis elbow to a tennis player, RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) is an occupational hazard for any indie author who depends on the full use of his hands, wrists and arms to ply his trade. British writer John Allen shares his own RSI wake-up call and what he learned from the experience to fend off future attacks. (Turns out he had tennis elbow too!)
Scream If This Hurts
I am embarrassed to admit that I screamed when getting out of bed three weeks ago (though I like to think of it as more ‘a manly yell’). My right arm and most of my right hand were numb. The bits that weren’t numb were filled with a pain that felt like a cross between being stabbed with a knife, and someone playing the violin on my nerve endings. As a writer this poses a serious problem. Just how do you write when you can’t use your hands properly?
I used to think that Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) was something that happened to other people. Then just one month ago I was diagnosed with RSI and tennis elbow in my right arm. Being accident prone, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Name me an injury and I’ll not only have done it, I’ll have done it in style. Twice.
In the past five years, I have managed to crack two ribs (skiing), tear the ligaments in my left knee (half marathon), break one arm (skiing badly), and sprain my wrist (driving, possibly badly). There are hazard warnings that feature me. Unfortunately I enjoy playing sports as well as reading and writing, so injuries are always a possibility. Exercise can be fun, and as a writer I know how important it is to stay healthy.
But writing was the last activity I expected to injure myself in.
Physical Threats from Writing
We spend so many hours behind the keyboard that it’s easy to forget the strain this can cause the body. My physio therapist has told me that the damage to my hand, my fingers and my elbow has been caused by long hours of typing. She doesn’t think the damage is irreversible (which is a relief), but cheerfully told me if I don’t adjust my working life style I will suffer with RSI for the rest of my life. How splendidly dire!
I am currently learning a very painful lesson: don’t sit behind your keyboard for hours without a break. It’s bad for your muscles, it’s bad for your back, it’s bad for your eyes… Basically it’s bad. Now, I know there have been many articles written about this, and you’re probably thinking “this will never happen to me! I laugh in the face of RSI! Ha Ha Ha!” I understand because it’s exactly what I used to think as I read those same articles. And then I woke up yelling in a manly fashion.
So how can you prevent or limit RSI?
- Make sure your computer screen is at eye height
- Make sure your chair is supporting your back and keeping your posture straight
- Take regular breaks from your workstation
- Exercise and stretch
- Seriously consider investing in ergonomic equipment for your workstation (mouse, keyboard, chair)
- Have a go with voice recognition software (it’s what I’m using to write this article) – most computers come preinstalled with voice recognition but you can also download software online
- Try not to slump or slouch when you’re sitting or walking about – seriously it messes up your posture and muscles
- Avoid using your laptop on your lap – it causes you to slouch and hunch forward
Of course you don’t have to listen to me. After all, I never listened to all those other articles about RSI thinking “it’s just a silly injury”. By all means carry on with your bad habits. Slouch at your desk or table. Strain your neck whilst sitting with your laptop perched on your knees. Mess up your hands and fingers by typing for long hours with no break. Use a badly designed mouse or touch pad to compound your muscle strain. Sit in a chair with no back or arm support.
Continue to do all of this and you too can wake up one morning screaming in agony (or yelling in a manly fashion).
OVER TO YOU Do you have more top tips to share to prevent/contain RSI? Or horror stories to add to John’s that will make others take avoiding action? We’d love to hear them!
- How to take care of your hands and wrists – by Debbie Young
- Writers – mind your backs! – by Karen Inglis
- How illness turned me into an indie author – by Nelly Harper