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The Impact of Writing by Hand

Do your hand and fingers ache during written exams?

Do you know you use 25 muscles when you write by hand?

Many of us are unaware of how hard our hands work when we are writing. Like any muscle in our body, our hands are prone to aches and pains if we ask them to do something new, or work for longer than usual.

In this modern age of computers and phones, we are writing far less often. Yet teenagers are still expected to complete several written exams, varying from 1-3 hours long, over the course of a few weeks.  In order to prevent aches and pains we need to build strength and stamina in our hands, especially during the intense exam season.

To reduce hand, wrist and arm stiffness or pain during exams, the Shefford Osteopathic Clinic encourages students to start preparing hands ahead of their exams.

Some practical suggestions to help the muscles in our hands are:

  • Writing revision notes by hand, instead of relying upon PowerPoint or prepared content.  This supports revising and starts to build up muscles in the fingers and hands by using them regularly.
  • Gradually increase written study time during the weeks and months prior to exams. This builds stamina so that sitting for at least an hour of writing becomes more comfortable.
  • Find the right pen. Small changes in pen shape can affect grip of and the movement required. Try different options to find a pen that is comfortable to hold and has a nice flow when writing.  
  • For stiffness in the hands and fingers when writing, pause and do simple hand and wrist stretches.
  • A little bit of self massage into the arms and hands after a writing session helps to reduce tension.

Why writing by hand works!

Given the discomfort and unfamiliarity of writing by hand for long periods of time, it’s interesting to understand the benefits involved.

Research shows that writing by hand may promote better and faster learning than using a keyboard or watching learning material. (Wiley & Rapp, 2021 via Psychology Today) The key findings showed that:

  • Practising handwriting involves specific motor skills that are only engaged when writing by hand with a pen or pencil.
  • Writing by hand promotes faster learning than non-motor writing.
  • The learning advantage gained by handwriting may be linked to the perceptual-motor experience of writing by hand.
  • Handwriting engages regions of the brain that are not activated by typewriting; this neural activity helps students learn better.

Is your teenager due to sit written exams?

The team at Shefford Osteopathic Clinic is here to help. We can offer advice and exercises to help with posture whilst revising and sitting exams. Exercises to strengthen wrists, hands and fingers can also help to relieve discomfort and ensure pain-free studies. Let’s make sure that your teenager has the best possible chance of exam success by alleviating the distraction of pain and discomfort when writing.

This article is written by Melissa Thorpe, a Registered Osteopath in the Shefford Osteopathic Clinic team.