Writing cramp

Handwriting / Writing cramp

Needless distress

Writing cramp, also known as ‘scrivener’s palsy’, is a misery. It spoils exams and can hamstrings careers. It is a neurological condition that affects a group of muscles in the hand and arm, and often causes serious pain.

It can be avoided.

What to do? First relax

Loosen your grip. You don’t need to an iron fist to control a pen. Really. Remind yourself of this obvious truth every time you start a new line. Letting your hand go limp and flapping it about also helps. (Put down your pen before you do.)

For a moment or two, let go

Use fast scribble exercises to relax you hand: horizontal and vertical zigzags, spirals to the left and right. This doesn’t take long and is time very well spent.

Standing up for a moment often helps. Put you palms flat on the desk and bend the fingers back by leaning gently forward .

The problem

The usual cause of writing cramp is misplaced concentration. You tighten your grip to write better. Sympathetic tension affects other muscles. Soon your hand hurts. But you can avoid it.

Want to try the gorilla grip?

Clench your fist hard for a minute or two. You will probably notice tension that affects your whole arm, and may even grip you shoulder. (Do relax before it’s too late.)

You should recognise the trouble when your hand grips the pen harder than necessary. Just relaxing is usually enough to stave off further misery.

Sensible investment

A simple grip that slides on a standard pen or pencil is inexpensive. It can make a big difference.

Plan B: a changed grip

A tense thumb is a major cause of writing cramp. In the absence of reliable numbers, at least four out of five cases is a plausible estimate. Fortunately there are several ways of holding a pen. Here are four.

Popular solution

Many people simply slip the pen between the index and middle finger at the first signs of discomfort. Some hold it that way all the time.

Shift the thumb

The thumb can also be moved up the shaft of the pen until it points at the first joint of the index finger or touches it. This stops many people from gripping harder.

Variation on a theme

Sticking the hooked thumb under the index finger gives a tight grip. After a while the position of the middle finger may need adjustment.

Extreme case

If other remedies fail, try taping a pen to the index finger. Masking tape (also called painters’ tape) is easier to get off afterwards than the cellophane kind.

Of course this method won’t do for long. But at this stage, tension and despair are often more difficult to deal with than the grip itself. It should feel like a game rather than punishment.

Children who suffer this kind of stress may need medical help.