Hurting Hands, Neck, or Shoulders? Ten Tips for Pain-Free Writing

It’s the best feeling: being in the flow, seeing the scene unfold in my mind as my hands hurry to record the vision. Words pour onto the page until…


Pain jerks me out of the zone with all the subtlety of a midnight fire alarm. Hand cramps—wrist ache—stiff shoulders—cricked neck…do any of these sound familiar?

I used to think that writing was all about my brain coming up with ideas, sculpting words into prose. Lately, I’ve had to admit that my brain can’t do its creating thing very well without my body’s cooperation. And when my body hurts, it refuses to cooperate!

Fortunately, there are some easy adjustments you can make that will decrease the physical strain of writing—so you can get back to creating.

Ergonomics-Graphic2Ergonomic Tips for Pain-Free Writing

1. Pay attention to your body.

If your body starts sending out pain signals when you write, don’t ignore them. Trust me: pain is a warning sign that something isn’t working. If you ignore those signs, they’ll probably worsen until you do pay attention. Ask yourself: Is there a single activity that makes your hands, wrists, forearms, shoulders, etc., hurt? What position are you in when it hurts? Can you adjust at all? Keep reading to find areas where you might be able to improve your body position.

2. Sit up straight!

It turns out your mom was right—sitting with a straight spine is good for you. Use an adjustable chair to make sure you can get into an ergonomically correct position when you’re working. What *is* an ergonomically correct position, you ask?

  • Back straight: you shouldn’t have to lean forward or backward to work—roll close enough to your desk that you can reach your workspace comfortably. Some good lumbar support is also helpful!
  • Head level: make sure you aren’t tilting your head too far forward or back to see your computer screen (to prevent neck pain)
    • Note: if you wear glasses–especially ones with progressive lenses!–consider investing in computer glasses. Computer glasses have an adjusted prescription that allows you to view your screen without craning your neck to see clearly. Thanks ValerieCramer1 for pointing out this important tip! 
  • Shoulders: relaxed downward, not scrunched up to your ears

3. Follow the “rule of rights.”

Your elbows should make a right angle between forearm and upper arm, your hips should make a right angle between thighs and torso, and your knees should form a right angle between upper and lower legs

4. Keep ‘em close (your arms, that is).

Your arms should be close to your body, not stretched out to one side or the other.

5. Line ’em up!

Your hands, wrists, and forearms should form a single, straight line parallel to the floor. Watch out for the tendency to collapse those wrists, which can put strain on tendons and ligaments (aka, wrist pain!)

6. Take frequent breaka.

Taking a break is one of the biggest things you can do to prevent repetitive motion discomfort and injuries—get up, more around, get the blood flowing into all those areas that tighten up when you sit too long!

7. Stretch and move….

…and when you take that break, make sure to move your body. Movement can help you release tension in tight muscles; plus, it’s a proven way to rejuvenate your mind as well. Ekhart Yoga has several free videos available that I find particularly helpful when my neck hurts or my back is stiff.

Yoga Therapy for Neck and Shoulders (16 minutes)

Yoga exercises to stretch the Neck and Shoulders (5 minutes)

Yoga for Neck Pain

60 minutes Yin Yoga for the Spine

8. Find ways to switch it up.

Taking a break doesn’t have to mean stepping away from your desk (although that’s never a bad thing.) You can also give your body a break by switching between tools. Do a lot of mouse work? Trying using different types of mouse, or experiment with a tablet interface for your computer.   Dictation software, such as Dragon Dictation, is surprisingly easy to use and surprisingly accurate. Or explore the shortcuts available for different programs you use commonly. Learning them can significantly cut down on your keyboarding and mouse work.

9. Invest in ergonomics.

If you’re spending hours at your computer every day, it’s worth spending some time and money to find equipment that lets you work in ergonomically correct comfort. Look for a keyboard and mouse that let you keep your wrists and forearms in alignment; look for a desk chair and/or desk setup that lets you keep your back and neck straight. Comfort, of course, is key! Cushions, wrist supports, gel mouse pads—test them out at your local office supply store and see what works for you.

10. Consider having a professional ergonomic evaluation.

Never underestimate the power of a professional evaluation. Ergonomic specialists can identify small changes in your work setup and habits that can make a BIG difference in how you feel. Plus they know all the latest and greatest gadgets on the market! Check with your local physical therapy center to see if they have a hand or back specialist on staff. Some will perform an ergonomic evaluation from photos of you sitting at your workspace, and others will come directly to your home.

What about you? Do you have writing pain–or tips to help combat it? Share your suggestions for pain-free writing in the comments.

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  1. ValerieCramer1 says

    Nice list! Thanks for the videos. I’d add one thing: If you wear glasses, get computer reading glasses. The wrong glasses can make us tense up, or lean forward or back.

    • says

      Thanks for the reminder! I can’t believe I left computer glasses off the list, since they made a huge difference in reducing neck pain for me, too. Thank you for commenting!

  2. says

    Really helpful suggestions. I’m on the lookout for any and all advice on this subject, having spent much of the last month at my chiropractor’s office with neck and shoulder pain. The hardest thing for me is to remember to take breaks and stand up! I feel much better when I do.

    • says

      Ouch, I feel for you! I ended up with nasty neck and shoulder pain at the start of the year…something to do with spending nearly every waking hour at my computer, I think! It prompted me to do some serious ergonomic rearranging! I have to set a timer to remind myself to take those breaks and move around. It’s hard to break away sometimes, but it helps when I remember how much *less* productive I am when I’m in pain!

      I hope you’re feeling better soon. The stretches really help, as does regular application of ice!