Ouch! How to deal with hand pain from writing

Reading time: About 4 minutes

For a writer there are few things more frightening than hand pain from writing. Our livelihood — and our source of joy — is at stake!

When I was a child in a family of seven, I had the clearest, most beautiful writing in the household. In fact, it was so easy to read, my parents always asked me to address the family Christmas cards. (And I was dumb enough to be flattered by this request.) 

They must be rolling in their graves now. My handwriting is so sketchy and ugly that I can’t read it myself if I wrote it more than 20, 10, five, three minutes ago. 

My handwriting started to fall apart when I was in my late 20s, working as a senior editor at a metropolitan daily newspaper. All of a sudden, I had to write and edit on a computer. Many hours a day. On deadline.

My right wrist (I’m right-handed) started to hurt so badly that I went to the doctor who told me I likely had a Repetitive Strain Injury. I went to human resources and persuaded the company to buy me a computer tracker ball, so I didn’t have to use the mouse so much. I also bought myself an inexpensive wrist brace from the drugstore and wore that from time to time. 

The strategies worked. At least as far as my pain was concerned, although the quality of my hand-writing had already taken a deep nose-dive. My injury flared up every couple of years but I’d wear the wrist brace for a couple of days — paradoxically, I found it most effective to wear it at night, while I was sleeping — and then I’d be pain-free again.

Many people can’t fix their hand and wrist injuries so easily. And, of course, writers are especially vulnerable. Hand and wrist pain from writing or typing is caused by a variety of factors. Here are the main ones:

Poor posture

As you read this subhead, you probably sucked in your gut and straightened your shoulders. Many of us respond to the word “posture” that way, which, ironically, is not terribly effective. More seriously, you’ve probably never considered that your posture — or how you hold your body — also affects your hands and your wrists. (As the song “Dem Bones puts it: “The back bone’s connected to the shoulder bone; the shoulder bone’s connected to the neck bone …”)

Bad ergonomics

If nothing else, the pandemic has underlined the importance of good ergonomics. People working by perching on the corner of their beds or slumping on crummy chairs at the kitchen table have suffered a host of back, neck, hand and wrist injuries. Remind yourself that anything you’re going to be doing for more than eight minutes a day, never mind eight hours, needs to be supported by proper equipment. 

Carpal tunnel syndrome

This condition occurs when the median nerve, which runs from your forearm to your hand, becomes compressed or squeezed at the wrist. Researchers don’t fully understand the causes of this condition but they know it’s related to repetitive hand and wrist movements such as typing, using a computer mouse or vibrating tools. Other risk factors include pregnancy, obesity, diabetes, hypothyroidism and rheumatoid arthritis. 

For me, carpal tunnel syndrome returned with a vengeance after my triplets were born. Not only had pregnancy increased my risk, but the act of having to carry and hold three babies put a lot of new and unusual stresses on my wrists. 

Treatment usually includes rest, immobilization with a brace or splint, physical therapy, pain medication and, sometimes, surgery.


This condition occurs when your tendons, which connect muscles to bones, become inflamed or irritated. Common causes are: repetitive motions such as typing, playing sports or using vibrating tools, poor posture, aging, muscle imbalances or weakness, certain medical conditions such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. 

Treatment usually includes rest, ice, compression elevation, physical therapy, or anti-inflammatory drugs. In severe cases, steroid injections or surgery may be necessary.

I had tendonitis several years ago — not from writing but from making Hollandaise sauce with a whisk. After the injury, I started by visiting my doctor, followed by an arm-and-hand physio for two appointments. I was still in considerable pain. Then, a friend suggested I try acupuncture. I figured it was an offbeat idea — for tendonitis? I wondered — but the acupuncturist fixed me in one appointment. And most of the needles went into my leg rather than my arm. It was mysterious and effective. 

Trigger finger

This condition occurs when the tendons that bend your fingers become inflamed and irritated, causing the finger to become stuck in a bent or straight position. I have also experienced this problem which I discovered when I was playing the flute. For me, it affected my baby finger which would become “locked’ whenever I tried to play a particular key. That said, the condition most commonly affects the thumb, ring or middle fingers. 

Researchers don’t yet know the cause of trigger finger but it’s usually attributed to repetitive hand and wrist movements, aging, previous hand injuries and medical conditions such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Treatment involves rest, immobilization with a splint or brace, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs and more rarely steroid injections or surgery. 

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis

This condition occurs when the tendons that run along the thumb side of the wrist become inflamed and irritated, leading to pain, tenderness and swelling. 

While researchers don’t fully understand the causes of this condition, they know it’s more common in women than men. They also know it’s related to repetitive hand and wrist movements involving twisting or gripping motions. Other risk factors include pregnancy, aging and rheumatoid arthritis.

Treatment usually includes rest, immobilization with a brace or splint, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs. 

How to prevent hand pain from writing

If you are a writer, start taking steps now to prevent hand pain from writing. Here are seven strategies:

  1. Take frequent breaks: Don’t work at your computer for more than 25 minutes without taking a quick break. (Funny coincidence: this is the perfect amount of time for a pomodoro.) Walk away from your desk and move your hands, wrists and shoulders so you can loosen and relax them. These short breaks will do you a world of good.
  2. Adjust your posture: Make sure your desk, chair and monitor are at a comfortable height for working. Don’t hunch over your desk. Sit up straight, resting forward on your pelvis. Make sure your shoulders aren’t bunched up around your ears. Your feet should be touching the floor and your elbows should be bent at a 90-degree angle and your wrists should be straight, not bent, while you’re typing or writing. I write while walking at a treadmill desk which puts extra strain on my wrists. After writing that last sentence I re-adjusted the height of my desk. 
  3. Use ergonomic tools: You can buy an inexpensive wrist rest, or an ergonomic keyboard or mouse and a footstool to help reduce strain on your body. And if you’ve already been injured (or are at high risk) you might consider using dictation for writing. The software is inexpensive and excellent. Writing in this fashion will likely make you a faster writer as well. 
  4. Do stretches and exercises: Perform regular hand and wrist exercises and stretches to improve your strength and flexibility. The exercises on this page look really good. I especially like #3, wrist rotations. 
  5. Become a better typist: If you’re a “hunt and peck” typist, whose fingers dart wildly across the keyboard, understand that you’re putting your hands and wrists at greater risk. Typing with all 10 fingers in the classic QWERTY mode helps you use your muscles in a balanced way across both your hands. And, besides, it will make you a faster writer as well. If you want a good free program for improving your typing speed, I recommend ratatype
  6. Use both ice and heat: Hot baths or showers and ice packs can help. Me, I’m a bath person but if you prefer showers, make sure the hot water runs over your neck, shoulders and arms. For ice, I have some high-quality gel packs but you can also use a bag of frozen corn or peas (just don’t eat them afterwards!)
  7. Get medical advice: Don’t try to diagnose yourself. Get advice from a medical professional. They can diagnose any underlying medical conditions and recommend the best treatment options. Most of all, never try to ignore pain. Pain is your body’s way of alerting you to a problem. Some of these conditions can lead to permanent damage if they’re left untreated. 

Do you deal with hand pain from writing? Don’t take it lying down. By understanding what’s causing your pain and by taking steps to address it, you can improve the quality of your life. And likely the quality of your writing as well. 


My video podcast last week addressed how to stop editing email. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.  


Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours. 


How do you deal with hand pain from writing? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Debanjan Roy, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a March 29/23 comment on my blog. (Please send me your email address, Debanjan!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by April 30/23 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!


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