Secrets To Reducing Scribal Pain

If you’ve read about me you know I am a retired dental hygienist. Although I’m not a physical therapist or yoga instructor, as a hygienist for 35 years I learned a thing or two about hand and body pain reduction. Some tricks I learned apply directly to scribal practice.

As a scribe concerned about pain control, my two main considerations are the tools I use and the way I use my body. 

Extensive time repeatedly making the same movements taxes the muscles and bones I use. In the short term, that makes my body or hands ache. In the long term, it strengthens some muscles while depleting others. It’s why a scribe or hygienist’s back and neck may hurt or curve over years of work.

Large/enlarged handles.

For my hands I prefer the tools I use most often have large diameter grips. If they don’t come that way I do things to make them so. This reduces muscle fatigue and encourages a relaxed grip. It also helps detailed stroke control.  

To enlarge brush handles I wrap those I use most with duct tape or apply those rubbery pencil grips. Other things can be used like small sponge hair rollers without their plastic clasp. I’m not aiming for ergonomic perfection, just larger handles.

There was a time when my thumb hurt when I worked or painted. This was physician diagnosed as a repetitive strain injury (RSI). He prescribed a special brace to heal it. 

After several months, I switched to wrapping common yucky, white medical tape around my thumb. This assisted the muscles, especially when I used something I couldn’t enlarge like a sewing needle. Now I sometimes use  “paper tape” as a precaution. 

Thumb Wrap
With Paper Tape

I also found several exercises helpful. The one that assisted my thumb the most was to hold my arm straight, make a fist with my thumb inside then tilt my hand slightly downward. I still regularly practice this one. (You can see this on the third row far right image of this PDF)

Body positioning is important, too. If possible, I want a chair that lets my feet reach the floor with my thighs parallel to it. I also don’t want the back of my calf resting on my chair-seat. I want my forearms to be parallel to the floor, not elevated to reach the support’s surface, with my wrists relaxed, not bent excessively. This position reduces aches during a long work session.

Commercial easel art boxes make the artist work with elevated arms, although you may get use to that. Those convenient boxes work well for plein air watercolorists. They are also useful with a quill rather than a dip pen because their position allows gravity to assist the ink flow. 

When I work on a scroll for a long time, especially with a short deadline, I take mini rest breaks. Stopping work for 5-7 minutes to move around may mean I can work for two hours, not just one. 

I combine my break with three exercises to relax my back, hands, and fingers. 
I extend my arms out straight then open and clench my hands five times. With my arms still outstretched I flip my hands up and down five times. Last I roll my shoulders forward and back five times.

    There may be other practices that help people working in one position or doing repetitive motions with their hands. These are the tricks I found most useful. I hope you stay comfortable too.

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