As writers, we tend to spend a lot of time in front of the computer. As a computer scientist, my time in front of the computer is magnified, because it’s my livelihood and my hobby. Over the past year-and-a-half, I’ve come to regret that sort of dedication to the machine, as I’ve suffered back injuries, and continued leg pain if I don’t stretch and move away from the computer regularly. And I’m not even 25, yet! This is a good thing, however. I’ve rediscovered the joy of writing in a paper journal (I hope to post some of my scribbles soon), reconnected with yoga, learned t’ai chi, and I am a much happier person all-around.
So here are the thirteen exercises and bits of information to keep in mind. Please print this list and do try the exercises yourself. I’d sincerely not wish my own back/wrist troubles on my worst enemy.
- To start out, most forearm/wrist pain comes from tightness in the neck and lower back. So if you start to feel shooting pains of any sort, step away from the computer and start moving around.
- Make sure to stretch SLOWLY, maintain proper posture, and always return to the natural face-forward position between each stretch. Rolling your head around is bad for you because you’re actually popping your tendons and muscles over your joints, which can lead to tenderness and eventually swollen bursas.
- Braces should only be used when you are feeling actual pain, because a brace will actually weaken your muscle. The brace does the work your muscles should be doing, so when you rely on that you might be prolonging the problem.
- Touch your chin to your chest/collar bone. Hold. This one is the hardest for me because I like to hunch my shoulders. Don’t hunch your shoulders! Keep them relaxed and dropped, breathe deeply, hold by counting to ten, and then raise your chin and look forward. Then sigh, because you’ve just released some upper-back/neck strain and it feels oh-so-nice.
- Try to touch your ear to your shoulder. You can use your opposite hand to help pull your head over, as long as you aren’t forcing anything. Hold. Return to the natural face-forward position and do same to the other side.
- Touch your chin to your shoulder. Hold (or count to five/ten). Return to the natural face-forward position before doing the same to the other shoulder. You should start to feel pressure release in your neck, and possibly your back if you’re very tight.
- Put your arms out perpendicular to the sides of your body. Raise your hands at the wrist so your fingers point toward the ceiling, hold. Drop your hands at the wrist so your fingers point to the floor, hold.
- Do thumb stretches. This loosens your forearm and hand muscles.
- Clench and unclench your fingers, ten times to get the blood rushing.
- Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Now s-l-o-w-l-y fold forward until your chest touches your knees. If you can’t bend that far forward, go as low as you can, making sure to keep your shoulders down, your limbs relaxed, and no sensations of pain. Count to five. S-l-o-w-l-y sit upright. Did I mention to go slowly? This is very important because you can hurt your back if you do this move quickly.
- Hold your hands up as if you’re being robbed (try to keep them just before your shoulders, palms facing forward). Hunch your shoulders as high as you can, keeping your hands in front of your shoulders. Do this slowly, ten times.
- Now do the same as # 11, except pull your shoulders back rather than up, keeping your elbows down. These two exercises strengthen your upper back muscles which support your neck.
- Stretch your hamstrings and hips, which support your lower back muscles, by crossing your right foot in front of your left and bending as slowly as you can at the waist. Try to touch the floor. Support as much of your weight on your right foot; you should feel the stretch in your left hip. Hold, and as you feel your muscle relax, try to get half an inch closer to touching the floor. If you can’t, no big deal. Slowly stand up, switch your legs so your left foot is in front of your right, and bend again. This is my favorite stretch because it targets about four different muscle groups. I always feel better after this one.
How do you battle the hazards of being a butt-in-chair writer? Do you take walks? Jog? Play with the kids? Or do you try things like yoga and t’ai chi (my new favorite pasttimes)? I’m always looking for new ways to stay healthy, so leave a comment with your suggestions!
* Inspired by my comments at The Good Girls Kill for Money Club.
** I’m not a doctor. If you’re feeling actual pain, please get help. Don’t forget that pain is our body telling us we’re doing something wrong!