Everyone has heard or felt ‘writer’s cramp’. The constant moans of it were prevalent in exam season when I was growing up after writing streams of revision notes and hours worth of exams. The pain, cramp, and stiffness from clutching the pen too tight through fear of running out of time; the overwhelming desire to stretch the muscles from their clenched position to relieve the tense muscles. What many do not know is writer’s cramp is a form of dystonia and for a writer, it is a curse with no cure.
I have a rare form of dystonia which has become generalised and affects every muscle it can think of, including my hands. In honour of Dystonia Awareness Week here in the UK, I am coming out of hiding to highlight the debilitating condition of writers cramp because as its name suggests it affect writers.
What is dystonia?
Mention dystonia and many people will scratch their heads because they have never heard of it affects 70,000 people in the UK. It is a neurological condition that causes muscles to spasm uncontrollably.
How does writers cramp fit in?
Writers cramp is a form of focal dystonia affecting the hands and is task-specific so it only happens when writing. Musicians can also suffer from focal hand dystonia because of the long periods they practice and play their musical instrument.
Writing becomes difficult because the pen is gripped too hard, the hand clenches tight or the fingers extend so a pen cannot be held properly or the wrist twists in ways you do not think possible. The more you write the worse it gets and the words become illegible. My writing can turn from relatively normal to a scrawl worthy of any doctor in a paragraph or sentence. It conflicts with my love of stationery and beautiful notebooks; I have endless notebooks I will never fill and pens I will hardly use.
It can be caused by
- overuse of the hand
- poor posture when writing
- holding the pen incorrectly
- or like in my case, part of a more generalised dystonia.
Awareness is key to get prompt diagnosis and treatment. There is no cure for writer’s cramp but it can be helped by retraining the brain to write, botox injections or medication.
Luckily we live in a world where technology is readily available so we have access to keyboards and if all else fails, voice recognition. My experience with that can be read here. Writer’s can continue practicing their craft but for me, there is nothing quite as free as letting creativity flow through the use of a pen on paper.
More information can be found on Writer’s cramp here
Happy writing, however, you do it!
Information from my own experience and The Dystonia Society UK.
Also published on Medium.