Use your OTHER hand!!!
This was getting a bit of action in the comments, so I figured I'd write this up as a proper entry, just in case some people aren't obsessively digging through the comments, or have this blog on RSS feed...
When I started art school (Illustration) in September 2005 my wrist suddenly began hurting like HELL. Drawing all day at school (sometimes for 6 hour stretches at a time) and then coming HOME and trying to draw comics all night finally did me in. My wrist would just SCREAM with pain and I found that I had to take more and more breaks to try and "protect" my wrist.
I've also had a bad back for YEARS, and for Xmas that year my mom got me a book on alleviating back pain. One of the key ideas in that book was that PAIN IS YOUR BODY'S WAY OF TELLING YOU SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT!!!
So back in February of 2005 I had the epiphany that I actually have TWO hands and it is ridiculous to have ONE hand (my DRAWING hand no less!) doing 99% of all my tasks. So I started paying attention to when my drawing hand hurt the most...
1) I noticed that after using the computer my hand hurt A LOT, so I switched my computer mouse to my non-drawing hand. It took about two days to get used to it (surprisingly fast!) and was surprised to see that it helped a TON. I think there is something about that clicking motion which is very similar to the fine motor skills involved in weilding a drawing stylus (using the same muscles/bones) and switching that over to my other hand helped a lot!
2) For me, this goes without saying, but if people are dealing with sore wrists and fingers, YOU SHOULD REALLY BE TYPING DVORK, it helps more than you can imagine!
3) I also noticed that after brushing my teeth my wrist hurt a lot (all of that violent back-and-forth action) so I also switched that over. It took about 2 weeks before I could really do it at full speed, without getting toothpaste all over my face, but it was worth the investment in time!
4) I write a lot of letters and obviously that hurt too, since it was basically the same motions as drawing (though more tight and frantic which hurt even more!) So for a long time there I also switched my HANDWRITING to my left hand. That was pretty "hardcore" and since my pain went away I don't really do this any more, but it's on standby if my hand ever starts to hurt again (maybe when school starts back up again?)
5) Even the smaller stuff can really help! When your drawing hand is in pain, try to keep it loose at your side when you are not drawing and FOCUS on using your non-drawing hand for all other tasks: erasing, opening doors, spreading peanut butter, washing your hair, etc. etc. You have TWO hands! Use them both!!!
Like Liz mentioned, one of my greatest fears is that my drawing hand will "give out," ESPECIALLY since I am investing a lot of time and money into training myself to be a person who's livelyhood will depend on my ability to draw! We are human beings and are therefore incredibly adept at ADAPTING. Sure, it is hard to learn to write with your non-drawing hand, but you CAN do it if you are just patient and stick with it. Go ambidextrous!!!