Repetitive strain and your writing career: is the pain worth it?

In conversations with writers and journalists who regularly have massage, there was a common theme: they all have deadlines to meet and have to work long hours so they endure pain until it becomes unbearable.

But this is an ineffective way to manage your time and resources. Pushing yourself to the limit is surely a very macho thing to do and will probably score brownie points with your editor or agent. Unfortunately, the human body can break down just like any other machine if you don’t look after it properly.

A few years ago Microsoft  did a survey among 1,000 office people (or desk-jockeys if you prefer the term). 68% of them suffered from back, neck, shoulder and wrist pain from typing and sitting at a desk without many breaks. Repetitive strain injuries caused long periods of sickness absence in the workplace losing businesses millions.

First talks of the adverse effects of repetitive strain injury came in earnest 20 years ago after a former employee of Portsmouth News sued the paper because of RSI. At that point, the High Court did not recognise RSI as a medical condition and the case was settled out of court.

In fact, according to the Health and Safety Executive, 10.4 million working days are lost through stress and 7.5 million are lost through back pain. This means that on average 24 days a year are lost because of stress and 17 days because of musculoskeletal disorders.

An “always on”, “working on the move” mentality brought about by new technology like tablet devices and smartphones stretched the concept of working hours to literally being glued to a keypad for most of the day, evening and often at night. This is an unnatural way to use our muscles and joints and according to shoulder specialist Dr Tony Kochhar you should consult a doctor immediately if you have tingling in the fingers or wrist and elbow pain.

Taking regular breaks and doing some gentle stretching to ease the stiffness in the muscles can help manage the pain in combination with a specific programme of massage treatments. See a video demonstrating some neck stretches you can do at your desk.

An early diagnosis is essential together with regular assessments for the ergonomics of the office furniture.

If you want to enjoy a long and pain-free writing career, the suggestion is to have regular massage treatments combining deep tissue, myofascial release and stretching to soothe inflamed tendons, release muscles and manage pain effectively.