A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Friday, March 8, 2013

Medicine for writer's cramp?

They can have my fountain pen when they pry it from my gnarled, cramped fingers
As much as I like using a pen and paper, I find myself having to take frequent breaks from writing.

So today, I see a Dr. Komaroff column addressing writer's cramp:

With writer's cramp, the muscles of your fingers, hand or forearm cramp or spasm during writing. Why does this happen? The precise reasons are uncertain, but it is possible that insufficient nerve signals from your hand into your spinal cord and brain lead to an inadequate "relaxation signal" from your brain to your hand.


Most cases of writer's cramp have no identifiable cause. But in rare cases, writer's cramp may result from disc disease in the neck, certain drugs (such as lithium), or brain disease (including stroke or tumors).
No identifiable cause? Look through the penmanship forum at The Fountain Pen Network, and you'll find people claiming that fatigue and cramping are brought on by relying too much on one's fingers when writing. These posters advocate writing from the shoulder on down. I'm pretty sure my handwriting book (Getty and Dubay, Write Now) says to do the same thing. This is supposed to be not just a way of keeping one's arm an fingers relaxed (which seems intuitive), but also to give greater control of the pen (which strikes me as counterintuitive).

When I began my (still uncompleted) quest a few years ago to make my handwriting legible, I tried following the advice to use more than just my fingers to move the pen, but I haven't been able to adjust to that. My fingers keep taking over, and my forearm will tense up after just a few minutes. So, I take breaks. But believe it or not, drugs are not out of the question for everyone. Among recommendations to relax the hand, not concentrating too hard on your handwriting, and hypnosis, there's this:
With your doctor's supervision you may try certain medications. These include trihexyphenidyl (Artane), propranolol (Inderal, others) or botulinum toxin (Botox) injections. They seem to help some people, although there are not many good studies of this treatment.
I think I'm going to give that whole "write from the shoulder" thing another try.



  1. Yes I keep hearing about writing from the shoulder but can't understand it. Surely you can't make all the little moves you do in normal sized handwriting by moving a great big arm? You simply must use your fingers, no? Maybe if you're doing some poster sized Copperplate or something you'd use full arm movements, but not when writing a letter or making notes...? I rest my case :-)

  2. Try to get some china Gel, at first it makes your hand feel cold then warms up the tissue on the inside it not treats the pain but also goes a long way to healing the problem.

  3. I would also suggest developing a habit of writing for the same amount of time every day to build up your writing muscles. When I was in university, I would go through spurts of writing very little for several days, then doing all of my writing by hand (mostly copying notes) over the period of only a few days, resulting in a lot of pain in both my hand and all the way up my arm to my elbow. Today, I still write a lot by hand, but I do it daily, for approximately the same amount of time everyday. Just like with any kind of exercise, practicing it regularly keeps my hand and arm in shape for writing and helps to prevent or at least reduce future writer's cramp.

    Obviously, this isn't a treatment for any pain that you have now from writing, but it can be yet another tool to use with your future writing. Good luck!