Stressed businesswoman sitting at desk in the office

3 Surprising Ways Writing Caused Me Nasty Physical Pain

by Tabitha Vedder

I’m in my twenties, and I’m not an invalid.

I know every job has occupational hazards, but I still think it’s crazy how many ways you can injure yourself accidentally just by sitting in front of a computer.

And I’m not even talking about mental health here—that’s a longer topic for a longer day. I’m talking about the ways that writing has messed me up physically.

Here are three of the physical issues I deal with personally due to my work as a writer.

Yes, Writers Can Get Patellofemoral Syndrome

I’m young, and I don’t have early-onset arthritis. I’m not malnourished, and I don’t have any sports injuries. Also, I’ve never been kicked by a horse or an ostrich.

So it seemed a bit weird when my knee started aching out of nowhere. But apparently this is a thing!

You give your knee a cushy life and it repays you with pain. Lots of pain. The kind that wakes you up at night for no reason.

At first it was just every now and then, but it got more and more frequent as the months went by. I figured I could just use a heat pack on it when it started acting out, and I wasn’t planning to head to the doctor.

But then one morning I woke up and it was a lot worse. I couldn’t walk without limping. The pain worsened throughout the day, and using a heat pad just seemed to aggravate it.

Eventually, given enough pain meds and time, that attack subsided. But I realized I needed help.

So I took myself to the doctor for a diagnosis of patellofemoral syndrome, a.k.a. We’re Not Totally Sure Why, But Your Kneecap Is Messed Up Syndrome.

When I got home, I looked up patellofemoral syndrome. I was discouraged to find that this condition strikes mainly people who run a lot and people who don’t run a lot at all (so basically anyone), and that physical therapy doesn’t always work.

But!

Physical therapy DID work for me. I attended all my sessions and did the squats, leg lifts, and other exercises daily for weeks. I didn’t have a single episode the whole time; before, I sometimes had multiple episodes in a week.

Now, nearly a year later, I don’t do the exercises as often as I should (who has a half hour a day to spend on each damaged body part?), but my knee rarely gives a twinge. So yes, the time investment was worth it.

In addition to the physical therapy exercises themselves, I also got two great tips from my physical therapist:

  1. Quit wearing flip-flops everywhere. Wear shoes that have support in them. (Sure, I’d heard this before, but I thought it didn’t apply to me, because I’m young and fairly healthy.)
  2. If you have patellofemoral syndrome, use an ice pack instead of a heat pack. An ice pack can reduce inflammation and swelling.

Since I spend most of my workdays seated, I still think the shoe tip is going to have minimal impact on me. But I went ahead and bought a pair of sneakers anyway.

Writers Often Hit with Migraine Headaches

Pop quiz time!

When you get an intense, throbbing headache behind one eye that’s sensitive to light, may or may not make you throw up, and lasts for days, that’s probably a migraine, right?

Now, I don’t have an official diagnosis on this one, but I definitely have the symptoms. I get these headaches a lot when I go outside and sometimes when I oversleep, but I also get them when I spend too much time on the computer, or in other words, when I’m writing.

I used to just toss back some ibuprofen and acetaminophen when I felt one coming on, and then take the rest of the day off from work. But that seemed like an imperfect solution, so I tried out a bunch of other self-care ideas too.

Eye exercises didn’t help. Magnesium is supposed to help with headaches but doesn’t seem to help mine. Massaging my facial muscles just makes me more aware of how messed up I am.

But that doesn’t mean all is lost!

Here’s what I find helps me with avoiding and recovering from these headaches.

1-Avoiding triggers (I especially try to avoid compounding factors like dehydration, crying, going out in the heat, etc. when I’m working)

2-Cool wet cloths and ice packs, to keep me from overheating and dehydrating

3- Peppermint essential oil. (No, I don’t sell it.) This has made all the difference for me.

I safely dilute it first in argan oil or sweet almond oil, and then apply it around my temples and on my forehead, being careful to keep it well away from my eyes. Apparently, I hold a lot of tension in the muscles around my eyes, and the menthol relaxes them.

Unlike ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which I can only use a few times per day, I can use essential oil anytime I feel any tension or when I feel a headache coming on. I’ve used several different brands that all seem to work.

My main criterion is finding one whose smell I really love, because smearing a smell I don’t like onto my face is less than relaxing.

(Find out why migraines like writers: “Are Writers More Vulnerable to Migraine Headaches?”)

Poor Posture Leads to Writing-Related Shoulder and Upper Back Pain

I didn’t spend my childhood strapped to a board while balancing books on my head, so it takes real concentration to sit up straight all day.

Which is probably why I don’t do it.

Instead, every time I quit thinking about my posture, my shoulders start to hunch over, as if my keyboard is pulling them in with a tractor beam. I think it’s partly laziness and partly stress, but either way the result is the same.

As you can imagine, adopting a hunched posture while writing leads to shoulder and upper back tension, soreness, and pain. I don’t want to pop ibuprofen daily (because of acid reflux and the potential for stomach ulcers), so I try to shoulder the issue myself with alternative remedies.

Here are some of the things that don’t seem to work for my shoulder tension:

  • Microwaveable rice packs (they’re supposed to be relaxing, but they just make me tense up more because of the weight)
  • Essential oils
  • Magnesium oil
  • Deep breathing—okay, deep breathing may help a little sometimes, but not always

Stress management is one of the things I’m constantly working on. After all, the less stressed I am, the less I’ll carry tension in my shoulders, right? I drink tulsi and chamomile tea, take magnesium supplements, write in my journal, and practice other stress-busting techniques.

But when my shoulders are already tense, doing those things doesn’t untense them.

Once that happens, I have a few options. Electric heating pads can help. Or I can ask someone for a shoulder rub (my favorite option), do some yoga stretches and use my set of myofascial release tools (the peanut ball is especially helpful), or just rub Tiger Balm on my shoulders if circumstances don’t permit the other options.

And then there’s the shoulder tension reset button: the warm Epsom-salt bath. This is the option I choose when the tension and pain is getting away from me and none of my other relaxing techniques seem to help. It’s especially great right before bed because then, theoretically, my shoulders can stay relaxed all night before I have to get back to work.

None of these writing-related physical ailments are life-threatening or even particularly serious. Still, they’re all painful and annoying, and I’m glad I’ve found effective ways to deal with them.

What writing-related symptoms have you battled recently, and what gives you relief?

* * *

Tabitha Vedder is a writer, classical musician, and fiber artist who hails from the Pacific Northwest.

She primarily writes about green living, health and wellness, and home improvement. She specializes in writing blog posts.

In her spare time, Tabitha enjoys reading and writing speculative fiction. She’s also slightly obsessed with tea. You can find her on Medium or LinkedIn, or connect with her on Twitter.


Sources:
Jayne Leonard, “Patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee),” Medical News Today, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319458.php

“5 Essential Oils for Headaches and Migraines,” Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/essential-oils-for-headaches

“What’s the Difference Between Migraine and Headaches?,” Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/migraine/migraine-vs-headache#headaches

Michelle Konstantinovsky, “7 Supplements for Stress,” One Medical, https://www.onemedical.com/blog/get-well/stress-supplements

Amy Jirsa, “4 Herbs For Peace In Mind & Body,” Mind Body Green, https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12023/4-herbs-for-peace-in-mind-body.html

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