Writer’s Cramp: Why Does My Hand Hurt When I Write

Despite all of the technological advances and society’s reliance on gadgets, there are those who still prefer to write the old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper. The same fine motor skills are also used for other types of tasks, such as playing a musical instrument, gardening, doing arts and crafts, and yes, even typing on a computer keyboard. All of these tasks, when done repeatedly, incorrectly, or under an intense amount of stress, can cause the brain to send the wrong signals to the hand muscles, resulting in focal hand dystonia.

What is Writer’s Cramp?

Writer’s cramp, also known as focal hand dystonia (FHD), is a disorder that causes muscles to contract involuntarily. Writer’s cramp is caused when the brain sends incorrect signals to the muscles. It can affect the fingers, hands, and forearms.

Writer’s Cramp Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of writer’s cramp can vary in severity from one person to the next. However, they include any or a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Fingers very tightly gripping a pen, scissors, or buttons
  • Fingers extending during activity, making it difficult to use the hands
  • Weakness in the hands and fingers
  • Fingers and hands that are non-responsive
  • Wrists moving in unusual angles

Types of Writer’s Cramp

Simple Writer’s Cramp

This type of writer’s cramp causes difficulty in performing a specific task. This task is often writing with a pen or pencil. Simple writer’s cramp is most often caused by the wrong placement of the pen in the hand, poor posture when writing and using your hand too much. A further consequence of this muscle strain, is that the writer can press down too hard on the paper. This in turn can lead to pain and muscle spasms.

Dystonic Writer’s Cramp

This type of cramp is far more generalized and can happen in any number of situations, involving a wide variety of motor functions. Also known as scrivener’s palsy or mogigraphia, this disorder will cause symptoms during any type of activity involving the hands: writing, eating, playing an instrument, applying makeup, shaving, buttoning a shirt and so forth.

Writer’s Cramp Causes

Writer’s cramp can be caused by any of the following:

  • Overuse
  • Poor writing posture
  • Holding a pen or tool improperly

Writer’s Cramp Risk Factors

The following are the most common risk factors for getting writer’s cramp:

  • Gene mutation called DYT1
  • Family history
  • Being male
  • Trauma
  • Exposure to poison

Diagnosing Writer’s Cramp

When a patient has symptoms of writer’s cramp, the doctor will perform a physical and neurological exam. This will help to determine which specific muscles are affected, and which types of activities trigger the cramps. They will also look for signs of related conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis.

Writer’s Cramp Treatment Options

Writer’s cramp has no cure. All treatment options are designed to alleviate symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life.

Treatment options depend on the severity of the muscle cramps. Some patients react well to physical or occupational therapy, while others require medication or injections. In rare instances, when conservative treatment doesn’t yield results, surgery may be necessary.

Writer’s Cramp Complications

The most commonly experienced complications of writer’s cramp include:

  • Tremors of the hand
  • Development of symptoms in the other hand
  • Dystonia in other parts of the body, such as the feet, neck, eyes, or vocal cords

How to Prevent Writer’s Cramp

While writer’s cramp cannot always be prevented, there are things you can do to lower your risk of developing it. These include:

  • Use proper technique. When using an instrument that requires repetitive hand movements, use proper form to avoid causing your muscles to move unnaturally.
  • Do not push through fatigue. If you’re tired, take a break.
  • Increase hand movements incrementally. Do not start from slight movements to exhausting your hands.

Request an Appointment at The Orthopedic Clinic Today

At The Orthopedic Clinic, we want you to live your life in full motion. If you’re experiencing symptoms related to writer’s cramp, let us help you. We’ll tailor a treatment plan that’s best for your lifestyle and get you back to doing the things you love.

Call us at (386) 255-4596 to schedule an appointment.

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