We can all worry when a child says that the hand or arm hurts when they’re writing. But is it writers ache?
The key thing is to have balance over our concerns. It’s about knowing when is the time to worry? And when is the time to give them reassurance that everything is fine.
In this article, I will help give you the confidence to know what you can do and say. Meaning you do not have to be worrying any more.
What is writers ache?
Firstly, let me explain what is ‘writers ache’? This is a layman’s term that can also be called ‘musicians ache’. Both experience similar difficulties. In fact, writers ache has a medical term called ‘focal dystonia’.
It is where involuntarily movements, cramps or spasms can occur. Sometimes a finger misbehaves by randomly sticking out. The person feels they have no control over it. All of these symptoms make it difficult to practice and execute fine motor movements.
There is some debate within the medical profession about whether focal dystonia is more of a physiological or psychological illness. One piece of good news is that it is more prevalent in adults over the age of 30. Therefore, it is very unlikely that our teenagers who are complaining that their hand is hurting when writing have this ‘ache’.
Regardless of whether there is a medical condition that has been diagnosed or not, writers ache can slow down handwriting. It causes real pain and discomfort. It can actually lead to a reluctance in writing. None of these are things that we want children and young adults to be experiencing.
Sometimes we can often forget that when we are teenagers, we are still in training. We may have the fundamentals. However, we are training both the mind and the hand to be writing fast. Training the mind is called muscle memory. And training the hand relies on the precision of fine motor movements.
How can musicians help us to understand this more?
To increase their practice musicians may join a band or go to university to train.
All can experience difficulties similar to ‘writers ache’.
In the first year when they are performing they may have pain related performance issues. In the second year this pain gets better and in the third year it is almost not there.
This is because they have suddenly increased the number of hours that they are training. It is quite common for a musician to practice as part of an orchestra for six hours a day and then return home to do an extra two hours of practice to remain on top of their game.
What can you do about it?
When we do a sudden increase of fine motor movements where we need high precision our hands and arms can ache. This can happen when we write a lot, perhaps due to exams, project work or dissertations. In fact, if we have an ache we are likely to be experiencing tendonitis. This is where the tendon becomes inflamed and swollen. There are two options at this time.
- Is to rest and do nothing. This is never a realistic option.
- The other option is to continue what we are doing but to look at the techniques in how we are doing it. This maybe by changing pencil or pen styles. By writing on a sloped surface or even writing on a pad of paper that provides cushioning to the hand.
It is quite common to be asking our children to be writing in exams that are longer than one hour. In this time, they can be over exerting themselves. Frantically trying to write everything down onto the paper so that their thoughts are marked.
Similar to musicians, we wouldn’t expect them to perform a piece of music without practice. The same is true for handwriting. We all need to practice, record and perform when required.
In my experience pain in the forearm is not that common. Some teenagers may experience pain. However, we also need to be asking ourselves… is this when they are writing everyday things? Or is this pain happening during exam season?
My advice would be if your child is saying that they have writers ache do not worry it is less likely to be as serious as it sounds. Look at changing their pen styles and get them to lean on something soft when writing. However, if your concerns do continue then do get this checked out by a medical professional.
What we can do is give our children time to strengthen their muscles in their forearm. Give them time to reduce any swelling from the tendons. And give them time to practice, practice and practice handwriting.