Painful truths

Snoopy Tennis tooPaula’s Post #24 – This week, I’m battling tennis elbow, a common term for a condition caused by overuse of arm, forearm, and hand muscles that results in elbow pain.

tennis elbow

You don’t have to play tennis to get tennis elbow, but in my case, tennis is the culprit.


I’m not complaining. I’ve had lots of fun these past few weeks and, as the saying goes, no pain, no gain. But tonight the pain and inflammation is acute enough for me to cancel tomorrow’s match and cut this blog post a wee bit short.

I have to admit this isn’t the only time i’ve had trouble with the tendons and ligaments in my fingers, hands, wrists and arms. Guess what? Writing causes tennis elbow, too. And not just tennis elbow. Ask Karalee, my 5writer colleague who is also a physiotherapist. She could probably write a treatise on the maladies that afflict writers.

Snoopy Typewriter

Paper cuts aside, most appear to be the result of repetitive strain injuries (RSI’s). For writers, both the keyboard and mouse are the chief culprits, though I have to say that, for me, excessive web surfing and the repetitive action of flicking my wrist back and forth between the return key and my Mac’s trackpad caused the chronic, lingering injury to my right wrist.That one took years to subside, mostly because I kept writing.

That’s the problem with RSI’s. You get them because you do something over and over again, and you do something over and over again because you like doing that thing over and over again. I think Joseph Heller would refer to his conundrum as a Catch-22.

catch 22

I know I need to be careful. But the truth is, I’m not. Not all the time. Not like I should be. Karalee, I know, would be horrified to see me my favourite writing pose, lying supine on the bed, a mound of pillows behind my neck, laptop on my tummy and wrists… well, not always in the recommended position.


Why do I do this? Why do we all do this? I honestly don’t know, but I’m reasonably certain I’m not alone. I’d love it if Karalee could assist in shedding some light on the compulsion that keeps us doing what we know we ought not. In the meantime, I’d like to share a cornucopia of arcane trivia I’ve dug up on the topic of ‘writer’s injuries’.

1. Nitwitism appears to run in my family – this summer my husband, a lawyer, needed surgery on his hand to repair a condition known as ‘blackberry thumb’ caused by excessive twiddling of the buttons on a blackberry’s keyboard. His surgeon asked him if he’d ever heard of an iPhone. That, however, may not solve the problem, as we must be careful to prevent iPad hand, a malady caused by too many ‘swiping’ gestures.

2. Students at Harvard University in Boston have formed an action group to provide preventative education, advocacy and support for students with RSI, and for those hoping to avoid it. You’d think they’d be smart enough to do that all on their own, but apparently not.

3. Across town at M.I.T., those clever students appear equally challenged when it comes down to knowing when to quit:

4. One form of RSI is “Writer’s Cramp” a focal dystonia, caused by misfired signals in the brain that make the hand involuntarily cramp.

5. The Guardian Newspaper style guide suggests that phrases such as butcher’s knife, collector’s item, cow’s milk, goat’s cheese, pig’s blood, hangman’s noose, writer’s cramp, etc be treated as singular.

6. J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, suffered from writer’s cramp and taught himself to write with either hand. He believed that the works he wrote with his left hand seemed more creative and other-worldly then those written with his right hand.

Calligraphy Brush

7. Writer’s cramp is the colloquial name for Mogigraphia, also known as Scrivener’s Palsy and Graphospasm.

8. The first epidemics of writers’ cramp were reported in the 1830s among clerks of the British Civil Service, where it was attributed to the new steel pen nib.


So, fellow writers, what maladies plague you and how do you cope? Rest? Ice? Gin? I think I’m going to try combo-therapy and hope that by later in the week, my tendons and ligaments will feel better. Vacation’s over. Time to get on with the rewrites and second draft.

Oh, and Karalee? Don’t worry too much. They’ve already invented a chair for me.

supine work station

4 thoughts on “Painful truths

  1. When I type too much, my left wrist hurts like crazy. For me, wearing a wrist brace (especially while I’m sleeping, so my wrist muscles rest in the correct position) has helped a lot. Good luck with your tennis elbow!

  2. Sorry about your tennis elbow — have had it and it really hurts (and persists). I’m an ergonomic ignoramus. I keep saying I’m going to do something about my workspace and my habits, but I never do.

  3. Thanks all,
    Sadly, I fear that their must be some sort of brain/body connection, I’m at my most creative when I’m an ergonomic ignoramus, too. Something about remembering to sit up straight stifles my creativity and keeps me from hearing my characters when they want to speak to me.

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