Using the hand repetitively is not without consequences, as is the case with any part of the body.
When it comes to the hands, it is not only the joints that experience the strain. The muscles may be equally affected. When repetitive use of the hands leads to abnormal muscle tone, the condition is known as writer’s cramp.
However, the name should not detract from the fact that it can occur in any person who repeatedly uses their hand usually in the course of their occupation. The medical term for writer’s cramp is mogigraphia. While the condition is largely reversible with resting the hand, this is not always possible in a modern world where our hands are our sole means of earning a living.
Causes and Risk Factors
The muscles in the body are capable of long hours and extensive use. However, there is a limit to the degree of strain that any muscle can bear. With repetitive tasks involving prolonged use of the hand, certain muscles become strained and fatigued. These muscles may go into spasm.
However, the hand is a more complex muscular appendage. When muscles on one side of the forearm or hand contract, muscles on the opposite side have to relax to allow for proper movement.
This is a carefully coordinated “pull and release” mechanism. With conditions like writer’s cramp the “pull and release” mechanism become dysfunctional.
Sometimes muscles on both sides contract thereby pulling against each other. Fine hand and arm movements become difficult to coordinate especially if it is repetitive and rapid. Over time the abnormal pulling can cause structural deformities in the arm and affect the normal alignment of the hand.
By far writer’s cramp tends to occur in people who repetitively use the hands for prolonged periods, particularly where careful coordination of the hand and finger movements is required. Therefore it is more commonly seen among writers and typists. It can also occur after serious injury to the hand and tends to be more common in people with a family history of the condition.
Most people who suffer with writer’s cramp pass off the symptoms as being muscle strain due to overuse of the arms and hands. However, writer’s cramp is a much more complex condition. The first of the symptoms to appear is pain which worsens with activity and eases with rest. At this point, most patients do not seek treatment. Over time even rest does relieve the pain.
As the condition progresses, a person with writer’s cramp experiences difficult coordinating certain movements. This can affect daily tasks which involves fine hand movements. The extent of the deformity that may occur in the later stages of writer’s cramp can vary from one person to another.
The hand may be twisted to one side and the fingers do not curl inwards as it should when resting.
The treatment of writer’s cramp may involve medication and electrical therapies. However, the results are not promising and surgery may be needed. Whereas initially the problem in writer’s cramp is largely muscular, as the condition progresses it becomes more of a nerve problem. It is possible for writer’s cramp to resolves spontaneously with no treatment but the focus should be on prevention instead.
Limiting the hours of hand use and arm activity would be the ideal solution. However, this is not always possible. Properly treating the hand at the end of a hard day of work should involve multiple approaches.
By far heat can be one of the most effective ways to gently reduce muscle strain along with a gentle massage and rest. With modern heat packs and wheat bags being small and convenient to carry, applying heat even during the course of the day during breaks can be helpful.