July 15, 2021 4 min read
Despite living in the age of computers, smartphones, and tablets, a lot of people still choose to write the traditional way - that is, by hand using pen and paper. They find the process more personal, if not cathartic, something that allows them to slow their thoughts down so they can better express ideas and emotions. Others cling to the practice for more practical reasons: writing by hand has a host of scientifically proven benefits.
For instance, according to studies, students who write their lecture notes by hand have shown improved memory and information retention compared to their peers who use laptops instead. In another study, still among students, writing their goals and plans down resulted in a 22% increase in academic performance. But even non-students have a lot to gain, since more studies prove that writing helps the brain, specifically our ability to focus.
However, though beneficial and enjoyable, writing can become tiring if done for long periods of time, eventually resulting in hand spasms (unwanted movements) or cramps (muscle aches). This can make writing uncomfortable, but at worst, it can render you unable to write at all.
According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, hand cramps are a type of nerve disorder. Often referred to as writer’s cramps or musician’s cramps, they’re technically called task-specific focal dystonias since they occur as a result of high intensity, repetitive tasks done with the use of the hands. For people who write a lot for work or as a hobby, cramps may start out after a particularly long writing session. However, over time, the cramps and spasms become more severe and can start as early as picking up a pen.
Hand cramps of focal dystonia is more common in professionals, as well as men than women, but in many cases, doing the same activity for years can cause hand cramps to anyone. A study published by the American Academy of Neurology found that people with writer’s cramps have brain abnormalities - specifically, they had less brain tissue in three specific areas of the brain that interconnect sense and movement in the affected hand. Whether it was the cause of their hand cramps or simply a change or “adjustment” by the brain as a result of their repetitive movements is still debatable. Still, the study’s author, Stéphane Lehéricy, shares: “The fact that the brain abnormalities are in the areas that control the affected hand suggests that these differences are specific to this problem.”
A number of factors can affect hand cramps, which include dehydration, overuse injuries, diabetic stiff hand syndrome, electrolyte imbalance, and arthritis.
As a journaler, having hand cramps can turn an enjoyable and fulfilling hobby into something painful and difficult. And while treating hand cramps may need a doctor since it’s largely dependent on what the condition is, there are home remedies to prevent and manage writer’s cramps so you can continue journaling unhindered.
Have you been writing for a while? Maybe it’s time for a break. Overuse can tire your hand out easily, making it more prone to cramps and spasms. So if you can, get some rest when you feel the beginnings of discomfort and pain. Or better yet, be proactive and schedule periodic breaks to manage and avoid symptoms altogether.
Just like any other muscle in the body, your hand muscles need some stretching too. According to research, doing this keeps your muscles strong, healthy, but more importantly, flexible. Flexibility is vital even when you’re just writing; regardless of the fact that your hand is doing the same motions over and over again, you can’t leave your muscles to tighten or shorten, which is the case when you don’t stretch and prepare them for an activity. Proper stretching will ensure that you can continue a specific range of motion without hurting yourself - or in this case, getting a cramp.
A massage can cause certain physiological changes in your body that triggers what is called the relaxation response. According to Harvard Health, this response doesn’t only relieve stress, it also helps relax the muscles. So if you’re starting to feel exhaustion creeping in as you write, take a break, stretch a bit, and give your hands a rub or a massage.
A common symptom of dehydration? Muscle cramps. This includes the muscles in your hands, so making sure you drink enough water is important. Experts often recommend about two liters or half a gallon each day, and though it’s not a myth, what is often overlooked is the fact that this is the average for a healthy person. If you’re unsure, or are taking certain medications (since some of them cause you to retain water), it’s always best to check with your doctor.
Certain studies and research have shown that nutrient deficiencies, specifically magnesium, vitamin D, and certain B vitamins, can increase your risk of getting muscle cramps. Therefore, eating food that provides you with these vitamins and minerals can help with prevention. Watermelon, avocado, coconut water, papaya, beet greens, and sweet potato are just some of the best sources of nutrients that can help you avoid hand cramps and spasms.
Hand cramps can impact not just the journaling experience, but also your everyday life. Whether it’s severe or not, and though most episodes last for just a few seconds, the pain can be intense enough to hold you back from doing certain things that you enjoy and love. If it’s manageable, we hope the steps we’ve listed down for you can help. Otherwise, it’s always best to check with your doctor.
Have you ever experienced writer’s cramps before? If so, what steps outside of this list have you taken to get relief, or to prevent it from happening? We’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to leave comments below! And as always, happy journaling and keep on creating!