View Full Version : Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or The Writer's Plague

06-09-2009, 12:29 AM
Just curious if anyone here suffers from this. I'm only 23 and already I have a minor case that comes and goes, depending on how much strain is being put on my hands. I can't even write with a pencil or pen for more than twenty or thirty seconds without having my hands cramp up into claws (only slightly exaggerated). I think it might have developed to the point it's at now when I was working on an older ms (not in my sig for whatever reason that eludes me). When I write freehand, I use .5 mechanical pencils, and one pencil in particular that I've had for about eight years now. And I write very small and very fine, so I put a lot of strain on my fingers and wrist, and five hundred pages of this, plus another hundred on an ms after that and the rest of history. All this, plus work in school, I believe contributed to the development of my condition. Again, I have minor symptoms, but they've persisted for a few years now.

I've done research and read many things on it, so I'm not looking for anyone to post links to the wikipedia page or anything, just want to hear from people who may suffer from it, and how they deal with it, being very active with their hands. I've had people tell me microscopic surgery can be done, but from everything I've heard about it, it's 50/50 whether it does anything for you, and I've been told cases that made things worse. I'd rather not have surgery anyhow, not because I'm scared, but because I don't want to be out of commission for however long it takes to recover--cast, physical therapy, hoping it fixed the problem...I'd be unable to work and unable for write. Dictating the words to someone else is out of the question. It's not the same as typing the keys and feeling the words flow through me.

The Lonely One
06-09-2009, 12:34 AM
I see no real risk for me with my writing at home, as both my keyboards are shaped and extremely sensitive to touch for ease of writing. Plus my fiction writing usually is slow.

It's the work-writing I worry about. Macs have HORRIBLE keyboards, among other things. I really hate everything that company has to offer. They can take their thinbooks or airbooks or whatever and file them under "I don't care."


My MAC keyboard at work is rigid and the keys rub against each other so they are sometimes hard to press. I write some documentation such as the police blotter at a very fast rate, repeating the same motions over and over. It becomes painful at times.

Also I have one older acoustic guitar with a high action and certain bar chords wear my hands' dexterity very quickly. I sometimes get, as you call it, claw hands.

If worse comes to worse there are programs you can dictate to and they learn your voice (I know some tablet PCs do this, I think there are various programs out there...) and type what you say. You can copy edit afterwards. Just a thought (I had considered it as an experiment.)

The Lonely One
06-09-2009, 12:59 AM
Okay I take it back. Macs make some pretty sweet multimedia programing.

But I'd never trade my PC.


The Lonely One
06-09-2009, 01:01 AM
Also I should read your post fully before I comment...apparently you said you want to use your hands. So. No dictating program. Scratch it.

Sorry for being useless :P

06-09-2009, 01:20 AM
I had a brief bout of CTS a few years ago and then more recently I did something to a nerve in my neck that has caused pain in my right wrist and hand ever since.

Things that helped: (1)Taking breaks. No more pounding the keyboard for three hours without looking up.

(2) Switching from a mouse to a touchpad even with my desktop. This helps for 2 reasons: tensing the hand to clutch and click a mouse can trigger pain, and also, despite being righthanded, I quickly learned to use a touchpad with my left hand.

(3) Writing with very light, big-barreled mechanical pencils (not pens). I like Sumogrips, but there are other brands. This also helps for 2 reasons: less need to tense the hand and clutch around a narrow barrel and also, if I do start to tense up and start pressing hard with my hand, the point breaks. A good reminder to relax hand and use gently.

(4) I found a terrific specialist in massage for people with CTS and other RSIs who did a lot of work on my forearms and neck that really helped. He became expert because he developed CTS himself on the job and needed to come up with effective therapy for his own sake.

Try hard to head this off before it really gets a grip on you. Less tension and more rest are the most useful suggestions I've got. (Oh and don't be like me, who kept thinking,"what's a little twinge? I gotta get these emails out!!" until it was too late.)

C.M. Daniels
06-09-2009, 01:25 AM
I've got a nasty case of carpal tunnel and tendonitis on both sides. I had to wear braces on both hands for years before I got things built up again. I can't type like I used to, but they're better than they were.

I had to go back to writing my first drafts longhand (after re-teaching myself how to hold my pens and not write too hard) and have someone else type them up.

The best thing you can do is avoid the activities that got you hurt in the first place. I wound up dropping my major in flute and switching to something that wasn't dependent on my hands.

Rest, rest, and more rest. It's tough, but it's worth it.

06-09-2009, 01:48 AM
I'm a writer, programmer, and a gamer. I've had a computer since I was five. I have carpal tunnel and tendonitis in both wrists.

How I deal with it:

(1) POSTURE. Holy hell, sitting up straight in a chair has an amazing affect on the pain in my wrists. This is the biggest for me.

(2) Take frequent, short breaks (every hour or so, just pull away from the keyboard for a few minutes, hit pause, whatever). I don't always do this, obviously, sometimes I'm at the keyboard without moving for six-hour stretches (not an exaggeration, and anybody who's worked as a programmer can tell you similar). But I try. There's programs out there that'll actually lock your machine during your "breaktime."

(3) Exercise. I lift small, light weights and do lots of reps (2-5 lbs) just to tone my muscles, and this has helped the pain in my wrists (I do wrist curls to help my forearms, among other lifts). Exercise in general is also time you're not at a machine, so it helps.

(4) Physical therapy. There's basic PT you can do on your own, and a brief jaunt through a Google search result will show you some exercises to do.

(5) Change up your pointing device (mouse, trackball, touchpad).

These have all helped me.

06-09-2009, 06:34 AM
I came down with CTS pretty bad a couple of years ago, but mostly kicked it out of my system. Since it was primarily work-caused, I went through fun and free physical therapy that helped a lot in normalizing the situation. I decided to opt out of surgery due to some of the reasons you mentioned, and with the physical therapy ages ago and a few current strategies, I keep my wrists at about 98-99% effectiveness on a regular basis.

Things you can do without physical therapy/surgery:

1. Frikkin rest your hands for a month just to get yourself to a level point--no video games, no super crazy weird stress, nothing. Rest, dangit. I know it's frustrating, but you'll thank yourself long term if you just let your wrists get a bit of a break to help normalize them.

2. Vitamin B. It is odd how effective Vitamin B is, but yeah. My physical therapist put me on it. At one point I figured it probably wasn't doing anything and decided to stop. Pretty soon after, my hands were tiring super fast and feeling very strained. So I take one every morning.

3. Cock-splint brace. Get one. Or two if both your wrists are whacking you. Or at least get some good sport wrist support braces. Cock-splints are great for early on while you are sleeping--they keep you from moving your wrist into very bad positions. They do get annoying after a while, though, but very helpful for as long as you can stand them. Get some sport wrist braces for while you are typing, and that will help you keep your wrists in decent positions then (technically, you could type in the cock-splint braces, but using a mouse is near impossible due to the cock-splint piece that forces your hand/wrist up). And should you be in need of doing serious yard work or house work or anything, pop your danged braces on (whichever you have that are comfortable for the task). This will save you a lot of pain.

4. Stop using a pen/pencil and TYPE! Seriously, I know pens and pencils kill my wrists faster than most anything, even a mouse. Which reminds me, learn keyboard shortcuts to avoid having to use the mouse as much as possible. The buttons on the mouse tend to be especially bad for making those tendons swell. Of course, having a nice keyboard that you can type on with a light touch is very helpful here (some keyboards require mashing to get any output--make sure yours is not one of those).

5. If you are swollen to the point where you cannot make a fist without your hand popping into and out of position, then go back to step 1 above. Rest, dammit. Rest, I say!

6. Did I mention rest?

Things NOT to do:

1. If your CTS is only in one hand, do NOT switch completely to your other hand. The extra strain will just screw that one up too, and then you'll be a lot more useless (I say this from personal experience).

2. Play massive video games for hours on end and then wonder why the heck your wrists hate you. Pacing is very important. Especially if you are using your wrists a lot in your day job and writing. You need to prioritize what is important now. And trust me, having your wrists usable is important. Being able to touch a keyboard without wanting to scream in pain is important. Again, I speak from personal experience (yes, I can be a moron sometimes).

3. Play volleyball. Do you really want to feel that slamming pain vibrating through your already screwed up wrists? No, you do not. Do not listen to peer pressure. Peer pressure doesn't understand what it feels like to return that shot. Personal experience, shall I say?


06-09-2009, 06:40 AM
As well as writing, I am also a professional cake decorator. Do the brace thing, as mentioned above. It is a miracle worker. Sometimes my hands still bother me, mostly during holidays when we are decorating like crazy...50-60 cakes a day, and what not, but the braces really, really do help.

Surgery? I don't know enough about to comment. I've heard both good and bad.

Matera the Mad
06-09-2009, 06:53 AM
I was in carpal tunnel hell for a while, but not from writing. Just a lot of intensive hand work. I took extra B vitamins and changed the way I did some things. Eventually it went away. I don't wake up at 5am with an axe between my fingers any more. Hardly even go numb (although I'm not crocheting either lol).

06-09-2009, 07:00 AM
I've accepted that I will inevitably have it, but will write anyway.

06-09-2009, 08:25 AM
Some things not mentioned yet:

Holly Lisle wrote an article about switching from QWERTY to Dvorak (http://hollylisle.com/fm/Articles/ed-yours4.html), and how it did away with her pain altogether.

Also, ensuring that your keyboard and chair are at the correct height, and the keyboard is an ergonomic one will help. I got a new keyboard, desk and chair a few months ago, and it has made a difference. I also find that I do better with a smaller mouse, which fits my hand better.

Mad Queen
06-09-2009, 10:32 AM
Some things not mentioned yet:

Holly Lisle wrote an article about switching from QWERTY to Dvorak (http://hollylisle.com/fm/Articles/ed-yours4.html), and how it did away with her pain altogether.

Also, ensuring that your keyboard and chair are at the correct height, and the keyboard is an ergonomic one will help. I got a new keyboard, desk and chair a few months ago, and it has made a difference. I also find that I do better with a smaller mouse, which fits my hand better.
I've switched from QWERTY to Colemak, which is supposed to be even better than Dvorak, as it was developed using better technology. It didn't make the pain go away. Maybe it got better, but it definitely didn't go away. I still recommend switching from QWERTY to Dvorak or Colemak just because the layout is much more sensible and if you can't touch type yet, you'll learn it.

06-09-2009, 11:10 AM
I have two doctors in my family (one of whom is a surgeon) and their advice was do not ever consider any form of neurosurgery unless you are on the verge of paralysis. Ever.

Turns out it usually does more harm than good, and 50/50 is just not good odds when you're talking about "limited mobility" vs. "Never using your hands again without indescribable pain" or "never using your hands again period."

That being said, I tried a variety of stuff to cure mine or lessen it and the following items work well for me:

1. cold packs (i cut the feet off a sock and put it up over my arms and wrists, stuff it with cold packs and keep on truckin')
2. acupuncture treatment followed by two days of complete rest for my arms
3.hot stone massage focusing on the arms shoulders and top vertebrae of the spine

06-10-2009, 04:19 AM
I've got a nasty case of carpal tunnel and tendonitis on both sides. I had to wear braces on both hands for years before I got things built up again.


06-10-2009, 05:53 AM
I'm 16 and I am believed to already have signs of it.

06-10-2009, 06:53 AM
I've heard many people with carpal tunnel say it helped when they switched to a fountain pen. With fountain pens the ink hits the paper through capillary action, so you don't have press on the paper. I know I get much less hand fatigue than with a ballpoint.

I'm not sure how useful this is because there are all sorts of special writing devices for people with carpal tunnel, usually things that you "wear" instead of hold, and I have the feeling they might be more useful than a fountain pen.

06-10-2009, 02:44 PM
Ah, carpal tunnel. My constant companion.

I know EXACTLY how I ruined my arms too. A few summers back I worked at a Dairy Queen, and, for eight hours a day, I would make blizzards--grabbing the cup in a rather contorted manner, shoving it into the blizzard machine, straining my wrists against the stirrer thing to get a more even blend (I was hardcore Dairy Queen, lemme tell you).

The vibration killed me, but, if that wasn't enough, I would come home and type away on my laptop. Did I use a desk like a reasonable person? Noooo. I had to type on a weird coffee table about eight inches too short for my laptop. So, I was hunched over that itsy-bitsy keyboard in the most unflattering position possible, and I would type for hours.

Except, here's my problem. If I get stuck on a word, I don't relax my hands, I don't pull away from the keyboard. No. I stop and lift my hands up with my wrists resting on the keyboard. I'm doing it right now. It's some stupid habit that only makes the hands tingle more.

Moral of the story: Posture! Desks! Better jobs! Pain-killers!

I've been to the doctor for it a few years back, and they recommended the Vitamin B and the arm brace. The vitamins are doable, but the brace doesn't help me much. It seems to transfer the pain to my elbows, and that's just not cool. Rest hasn't seemed to work, but I'll admit, I haven't tried very diligently to avoid typing/writing/video games since the pain first started...4 years ago? Good Lord. Aleve and a hot shower are my only defense anymore.

I'm wondering though: My pain doesn't come while I'm doing something, it hits me as soon as I relax the muscles. I can carry a dozen bags of groceries into the house no problem...then I set them on the table and my arms explode. Anyone else have this symptom?

Driving, too, gets a bit hairy. Smooth roads aren't a problem, but, alas, I live in Pennsylvania. The state animal is the construction horse, etc etc. Anyone have any problems when they drive? The constant vibrations or tensing your arms as you hold the wheel?

And why does holding a pencil/pen hurt more than typing?

06-10-2009, 06:18 PM
*sheepishly goes to put her braces back on* I don't have carpal tunnel yet, but I have tendonitis in both wrists. And it's my own fault. I wear the braces until it quits hurting, then I forget to wear them again, and it comes right back. Bad Tas, no donut.

Velma deSelby Bowen
06-10-2009, 08:01 PM
Wrist braces, frequent breaks, stretches/exercise, and I would seriously recommend avoiding ballpoint pens, because of the amount of pressure needed to heat the ink. Fountain pens and pencils are your friends, as is a little research in good ways to hold the pen and angle the paper.

Dealing with CTS for close to twenty years

06-10-2009, 10:37 PM
I think everyone's said as much, but since only one mention of ice is there, I'm just gonna add a "yup, ice" to the thread. My friend's mom is a nurse. When I got my first twinges she recommended I ice it, rest it, and the next day heat it.

I iced and rested it, and ...didn't heat it, just went back to work the next day. it's fine and dandy now again :)

But long term posture, ergonomics, rest--very important. ice=short term pain relief.

Susan B
06-12-2009, 06:22 PM
I had a bad bout of carpal tunnel 4 years ago and I still have to watch it. Lots of good advice in the above posts.

The only thing I would add is that carpal tunnel can be brought on by combination of activities--and the culprit may not be the one you suspect. So do a good analysis and consider giving something up if need be.

My day job doesn't involve the use of my hands very much. (I'm a psychologist). But what I do outside of that--writing on the computer and playing the Cajun accordion--sure does.

What brought on the carpal tunnel on was two things: I started to play my accordion standing up vs. sitting down when my band performs, and I was given a laptop--my very first--at the clinic where I worked at the time.

I was thrilled with the lap top, because I could use to work on my book during my long train ride to and from work. I think that's what did me in. Not so much the increased typing, but hauling that heavy rolling case around with me, when I did the 20 minute walk from the train station to the office. It put a lot of pressure on my hands.

I was waking up with numbness and hand spasms, so I knew I needed to do something. Went to see the nurse practitioner, figuring she'd tell me to give up the Cajun accordion. But lucky me--she turned out to be an Irish accordionist, and she'd never dream of telling me to give up my music. She told me she'd had the same problem, and tried to figure out what else she could give up. She decided to give up knitting.

I decided to go back to playing the accordion sitting down. Less cool in a performance situation, but it put less pressure on my hands. Then my laptop got stolen, and soon after I left that job. So my husband got me my own lap top, light enough to carry in a back pack.

I've been pretty much okay since then. (Finished the book, too :-)

06-12-2009, 08:52 PM
I had it pretty severely, as did my mother.

I got an ergonomic mouse, a Kinesis ergonomic keyboard, switched to Dvorak, and got a better computer desk with multi-adjustable keyboard tray. I also wore braces 24 hours a day for the first two months as I adjusted to my new equipment. I have zero pain now.

My mother had surgery and has never regained full motor control of her right hand. That's what convinced me to take serious action now, before I needed surgery.

06-12-2009, 09:10 PM
Not an ounce of it for me, which is surprising. I've had issues with my right arm for years because of gymnastics. My doctors wanted to test me for rhumatoid arthiritis at 14 because the pain in my arm was so bad. No carpal tunnel but I have three cysts in my right wrist, a shoulder socket that isn't fully formed (sits more like a ball and saucer than ball and socket) which leaves me with weak ligaments and a shoulder that likes to dislocate on occasion and tendonitis throughout. But no carpal tunnel.

I've been typing since I was about 7 and I write long hand. The only time I've had pain within the last 10 years was during this past NaNo and that was only for a day. But other than that, nothing. I used to have a lot of pain when I was younger but it was the way I held my pen and how tight more than anything.

Try experimenting with how you sit, how you hold a pen, how you position your hands on the keyboard. All of that can add to your pain.

06-12-2009, 09:43 PM
I'm 23 yrs old as well, and this is a huge problem I guess it is Carpal Tunnel...My hands cramp if I write with a pen/pencil, if I open a bottle or jar. When I tie my shoes it can happen. So I type but even there I have issues because of my wrist. I don't know if I have cts, but I have issues with almost every joint in my body. And they checked a few months ago for rheumatoid arthritis, just for the results to disappoint them. Yes, being negative for r.a. disappointed my doctors.
I hope that the suggestions above help you, and I am certainly going to try some as well. Heck I almost bought a wrist brace for some use. And while you may not be able to dictate to someone, get a recorder and take vocal notes for yourself. It may end up being fun and different and in the end it may be like telling a story to a child...or something...
I hope you get better, give it time and things may help. :)