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J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 76:513 doi:10.1136/jnnp.2004.044743
  • Historical note

A note on scrivener’s palsy

  1. J M S Pearce
  1. 304 Beverley Road, Analby, Hull HU10 7BG, UK; jmspearce@freenet.co.uk

      For many years—before its recognition as a focal dystonia—writers’ cramp (scrivener’s palsy (from the Latin scribere: to write)) was regarded as an occupational hazard akin to repetitive strain. Lucire1 in a provocative book suggests that the only new aspect of repetitive strain injury (RSI) is its name.

      The first epidemics of writers’ cramp were reported in the 1830s among clerks of the British Civil Service, where it was attributed to the new steel pen nib. Sir Charles Bell gave a description of these disorders:

      “I have found the action necessary for writing gone, or the motions so irregular as to as make the letters be written zig-zag, whilst the power of strongly moving the arm for fencing, remained…“The nerves and muscles are capable of their proper functions and proper adjustments; the defect is in the imperfect exercise of the will, or in the secondary influence the brain has over the …