The life of a student ain’t easy. The pressure is insane, the higher education system is a pain in the bellend, the professors are useless, and instructors are amazing, and there are tests, deadlines, projects, studies, and homework to keep up with. Then there’s the added responsibility of managing finances, social responsibilities, a job(s).
For me personally, I’m in a military program similar to ROTC- and my particular track requires me to fast-track a whole bunch of courses that would normally be better dispersed over four years. I haven’t had a summer off since 2019. Needless to say, I have constantly been writing, typing, sketching, and drawing for a year and a half (alongside my hobby of playing the recorder and playing SlotoCash Casino), and all that is finally catching up with me. In my wrist. Which is starting to ache like a son of a gun.
Changing how I write
The first immediate solution that came to mind was also one that I almost immediately threw away. Ideally, I’d be able to take some time off from all of those wrist-related activities so that I can heal and come back at all these tasks fresh. Well, life doesn’t work like that, and I doubt my University would be very accommodating. “Oh, could you please push back everything by about a week so that I stop having owies in my wrist?”
Now, I’m not stupid. I know that I can’t continue like this, or I risk ending up with some serious, long-term problems, like carpal tunnel syndrome. The main thing I do is write. I’m in classes most days from 9 AM until 6 PM, in classes that are blocked out in 1.5 hour periods, with half-hour breaks. Suffice to say, there is a lot of writing going on.
Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of writing that can easily be transferred to a laptop. Typing is significantly easier on my wrist than writing by hand, but the kind of stuff I’m learning (engineering) constantly switches back and forth between text, sketches, diagrams, and mathematical equations- which are all significantly easier on pen and paper (Have you tried writing out formulas in Word? Loads of ‘em? Believe me, it’s really annoying).
So, instead of doing the smart thing and reducing how much I write, I figure that there might be a way of circumventing twinging muscles by changing how I write.
The first thing I looked into was a thing called “shorthand writing”. It’s basically a kind of cipher that breaks down larger words and sentences into smaller, easier symbols. It was invented for reporters and stenographers to be able to take notes down as quickly as possible before being converted into more legible longhand afterward. Someone well practiced in shorthand can write as fast as someone speaks, at over 100 words per minute.
There are several kinds of popular short-hand scripts. There are symbol-based systems, which replace entire words with easy-to-write hacks and slashes. These systems are harder to learn but provide the ultimate speed-writing capabilities to someone who has mastered them. I’m talking over 200 words per minute kind of speed. Examples include Pitman Shorthand, Boyd’s Syllabic Shorthand, and Samuel Taylor’s Universal Stenography.
There is also an alphabetic shorthand. Instead of entire words, these systems simplify already existing alphabets into symbols that are more easily written. An “A” for instance, is simplified in some systems to simply be an upside-down “V”. These kinds of systems are far easier to pick up, and one can fairly quickly reach 70 to 100 words per minute in a relatively short time.
The problem with all of these is that they don’t really solve my problem. You can’t really simplify Free Body Diagrams more than they already are, and the notes I take aren’t even in English characters half the time anyway. So I chucked out that idea.
Along a similar vein, I looked into writing cursive. Now, I did learn how to learn cursive back in elementary school- then I promptly forgot it and never used it again. I figure that removing the pen from the paperless could help my wrist, especially with a more flowing writing style that could take advantage of my whole arm. Unfortunately, that would require me to learn cursive again- and it doesn’t help with any of the other scribblings I have to do all day.
There are three main things that I have tried so far that have actually helped. The first is changing the ergonomics of how I hold my pen. Before, I held my pen between my thumb and index finger, with the rubber bit resting on my ring finger. Both my ring finger and pinky would be almost completely curled up. This is how I naturally write and how I’ve been drawing for basically my entire life.
The problem with it is that it seems that in this position, I instinctually write by moving my wrist. I move my hand back and forth while keeping my forearm completely still. This puts most of the strain on the wrist and a small group of muscles.
What I have been forcing myself to do instead is hold the pen between my index and ring finger and use my thumb for extra balance and force. I find this position not only is easier on my wrist by itself but is also easier for me to consistently use my whole arm while writing. With the muscles in my biceps and elbow region getting in on the action, the strain on my wrist is lessened, which is exactly what I want! Plus, since my ring and pinky fingers aren’t participating at all, I can keep them extended, lessening the wrist strain even further! Yay!
The second thing I’ve started doing to help ease the tension in my wrist is wrist stretches. I found some helpful articles on Helpline for some useful wrist stretches. The idea is that the muscles are tight and, like any other muscle after exercise, should be stretched to reduce that tight, sore feeling.
The simplest of these stretches is the basic arm extension.
- Hold your arm out horizontally, with your palm facing towards the ceiling.
- Grab your fingers with your opposite hand, and pull them towards your body.
- Hold for ten seconds.
- Repeat with the other hand.
- Repeat four or five times for each hand.
- Switch the direction your palm is facing and the direction you pull your fingers in, just to cover all your bases
Another good one is called the Praying Position Stretch (Note to self: Do not make a missionary position joke… don’t do it… don’t…).
- Stand up if you’re not already.
- Put your hands together like your praying to Jeebus on the toilet bowl after stopping at Taco Bell.
- With your palms together, touch your elbows.
- Keep your palms pressed together while you slowly spread apart your elbows and lower your hands to about your midriff.
- Hold for ten to thirty seconds, then repeat.
The third and final one (that isn’t a straight-up wrist exercise, rather than a stretch) is called the Clenched Fist. And no, it’s not a kung fu movie.
- Be seated
- Place your open hands on your thighs, palms facing up.
- Slowly clench your fingers into fists (but not too tightly!)
- Keep your forearms on your legs as you lift your fists towards yourself.
- Hold for ten seconds
- Lower your fists, and open them slowly
Give it a Rest, Mate.
The third and final thing I did was… well, my first idea that I initially threw out. I decided to take a weekend to completely rest my wrist. I forsook writing, drawing, typing, or playing the recorder for a whole twenty-four hours. Honestly, this is probably what helped the most. This is really frustrating because I can tell from random twinges that I could really use a greater break from all this than 24 hours. Unfortunately, I’ve got bills to pay, homework to turn in, and a girl I gotta go see about (Good Will Hunting, anyone?)
So, the best advice I have for dealing with wrist pain caused by overuse is… to not use your wrist. Truly, I’m a genius of the ages. However, I hope the other things I looked into help you along your road to recover more than they helped me. If you’re a history or sociology student, perhaps getting a grasp on shorthand will be beneficial to you, I dunno. Those wrist stretches are really nice, although part of me does wonder if it’s more of a placebo than anything else. Heck, if I know. I’m no doctor. All I know is, the pain is a bit better than it was, right up until I slept on my arm funny, and now my elbow hurts for some reason, gosh friggin darn it.
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