The Curious History of Writer's Cramp: Solving an age-old problem by Michael Pritchard

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The Curious History of Writer's Cramp: Solving an age-old problem by Michael Pritchard

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A fascinating look at the history of a problem which has been around for 300 years. Recommended
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 231 Date: June 2020
Publisher: Independently published
ISBN: 978-8647408198

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Society is based on speech but civilisation requires the written word.

I came to Michael Pritchard's The Curious History of Writer's Cramp by a rather strange route. I have problems with my hands which orthopaedic surgeons refer to as 'interesting': I prefer the word 'painful' but I have an interest in the way that hands work. An exploration of the history of a problem which has defeated some of the best medical minds for some three-hundred-years seemed liked excellent background reading and so it proved, with the book being as much about the doctors treating the sufferers and the changing medical attitudes as the problem itself.

Numerous illnesses or injuries can make writing difficult, if not impossible. Almost worse than this is the situation for a person who is otherwise healthy but who quickly loses the ability to write. Writer's cramp was first recorded in 1700 when Bernardino Ramazzini described a man who by persistent writing began to complain of an excessive weariness of the whole right arm... At that time 'scriveners' were mainly male and writer's cramp could cause them to lose their livelihood. The problem could be relieved by complete rest but it recurred once the occupation was taken up again.

Some of the great medical minds of each time would look at the problem and try to force it to fit their pet theories. Some favoured a neurological cause, others thought that it was the overuse of muscles. Numerous treatments were tried - some of which now seem completely outlandish - but none were successful in maintaining any improvement when work recommenced. As the need for scriveners decreased, words were transferred by telegraphy and Pritchard gives an excellent potted history of telegraphy and how it works. With telegraphy came telegrapher's cramp and this would mutate into the same problem occurring when men and women had to do work which required repetitive actions from the hands without adequate rest periods.

Michael Pritchard was a consultant rheumatologist with a particular interest in the history of work-related musculo-skeletal complaints, so this book plays to all his strengths. He has the ability to bring the individual medical practitioners to life in a few words and place them in their period. There's a forensic approach to the reports which they made, quickly reducing them to something which the generalist can comprehend. He's a good storyteller, too, and I found myself invested in how various approaches would work out.

I have a minor quibble with the book and that's that it does - to some extent - fall between two stools. The way in which the history is written is accessible to the generalist but there's frequent use of medical terminology which meant that I spent quite some time consulting Dr Google as to what various words meant. I know more about some symptoms than I hope I ever need to know in the future. A glossary would have been a godsend.

So, is there a solution to the conundrum? Well, yes, there is and it seemed simple and obvious even to me but I'll leave you to read what Michael Pritchard has to say on the subject.

I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If medical histories of this type appeal to you then we think that you'll also enjoy Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich.

You can read more about Michael Pritchard here.

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Buy The Curious History of Writer's Cramp: Solving an age-old problem by Michael Pritchard at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Curious History of Writer's Cramp: Solving an age-old problem by Michael Pritchard at Amazon.com.

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