Handwriting was always something I wished I was good at. I would watch my friends develop elegant and individual writing styles with envy. In my case, I simply wished I could get to the bottom of the page without my hands hurting.
Gripping the pen so tightly it left dents in my fingers. Always having to write on layers of paper to avoid stabbing though the top sheet. Leaning at increasingly wonky angles to avoid smudging my work. I would watch as each paragraph became increasingly illegible and my muscles would start to cramp and spasm.
Safe to say, exam season at school was pretty miserable for me. Since getting my diagnosis of hypermobile EDS my school-time struggles make a whole lot more sense.
This post is a quick compilation of skills and equipment that can help with writing woes. Perfect for folks living with conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder, Dyspraxia and more.
Taking regular breaks and splitting long blocks of activity into smaller chunks is an essential skill to learn for anyone with a long-term condition. In terms of writing, the micro-break is a super skill to start using.
A micro-break is exactly what it sounds like. A very short break from whatever activity you’re undertaking, usually around 30 seconds. When writing, I let go of my pen at the end of every paragraph. Stretch my hands out, wiggle the circulation back into my finger tips then carry on. It’s not enough of a pause to break me out of my writing flow but it is enough to help with my hand pain.
Like all forms of pacing, this works better when done frequently and pro-actively. Don’t wait till your hands start throbbing to take a break, by then it’s already too late.
If you’d like to learn more I offer a Pacing Masterclass via video chat!
If we look at the principles of ‘Joint Protection‘ we know that teensy, fiddly items are harder to hold than big ones. The same is true for pens. Skinny ones are usually harder to use than chunky felt-tips. Many folks with persistent hand pain will find themselves naturally selecting soft-grip, relatively chunky, gel pens. You can also add on squishy pencil grips.
**top tip** if you’re caught out pen-less an elastic band or hair tie can be looped around regular pens to make a chunky one.
If the chunky-pen option helps but doesn’t quite solve the problem then there are a few options for adaptive pens.
The PenAgain is a Y shaped pen that shifts the pressure needed to write from your fingertips to the base of your index finger. This also allows you to relax your grip.
The shape of the PenAgain helps encourage a correct pen grip. The PenAgain is a pretty compact little pen which means it’s perfect for use by adults and kids alike.
The Ring Pen is a lot like a standard biro, the difference is that the pen holds on to you, so you don’t have to hold on to it! There is also a ‘Ring Pen Ultra‘ which fits onto existing pens to convert them into ring pens. This is a great solution for artsy folks who don’t want to compromise on their range of writing tools. The ring pen is much better suited to adult size hands.
If you’re keen to try an adaptive pen but you’re not sure which one to try there are some fantastic kits available.
My personal solution is a little less expensive and a lot more versatile.
Take any foam stress ball and poke a hole through it. Ta daaa
The large grip size keeps your hand more relaxed which can lead to less cramping and tension. The curved shape discourages hyperextension of the finger tips which can be a big problem for folks on the hypermobility spectrum. The squishy texture encourages you to fidget and spend less time in any one position which links in nicely with the micro-breaks.
The biggest benefit of this method is that you’re not limited to just pens. The stress ball method works with pencils, paint brushes, makeup brushes, eye and lip liner pencils, tooth brushes and cutlery too.
The main downside is unfortunately that the ‘stabbing a hole through’ somewhat compromises the structural integrity of the ball. Repeatedly swapping between pencils and pens can cause the ball to fall apart. You might find that having a few different stress balls for your most used tools makes them last a little longer.
An angled writing slope is exactly what it sounds like, an angled slope for writing on! Many people find that changing the angle they write at reduces pain and tension. Raising the far end of the paper also makes it easier to read and watch from an upright position which helps avoid slouching. There are plenty of writing slopes out there that also double as laptop stands which is a great solution for folks who flit between the two.
If you’re not sure if this is likely to help you, it’s easy enough to test using a ring binder folder. This is a good short-term solution but most folders will get pretty squished after a few rounds of homework!
Supports and Splints
If you’re already pacing, you’re surrounded by different pens and stress balls and your slopes have slopes then it might be time to think about splints and supports.
If possible, discuss this with an Occupational Therapist or Hand Therapist before buying.
Compression gloves offer light support and great heat retention which can help with a host of different aches and pains. These are particularly good if you’re struggling with Raynauds or find that cold weather makes your pain worse. Most brands are fingerless meaning you can still use touchscreen devices and they shouldn’t interfere too much with crafting activities either.
Ring splints are hyperextension-blocking splints. They’re designed to limit movement in ‘bad’ directions while allowing full range of ‘normal’ movement. I have a set from Ring Splints by Zomile and they’ve definitely helped me stabilize my finger tips and speed up my writing and typing.
Similar splints are also available in Thermo-Plastic. Oval-8 splints might be a slightly more cost effective solution for some. If you think these may benefit you then speak to your GP or Consultant about a Hand Therapy referral.
If you’re looking for a little innovation or luxury then you’re in luck. Ring splints in silver are pretty common and new suppliers pop up on etsy on a regular basis. I’m also seeing an increase in 3D printing for splints which has definite potential for the future so stay tuned!
Hopefully that’s been useful, if you do have any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to get in touch! I’m happy to answer questions and even happier to book appointments!