By Melissa Fusco
The single best tool that artists have to work with is their own hands. Often I hear clients tell me that my hands must hurt from tattooing hours-on-end. In my experience my hands are the last to feel fatigue and if so, the first to recuperate. The hands are an amazing and complex tool that can withstand hours of repetitive work, their strength, stamina, flexibility and movement is incomparable and cannot be replicated...
Looking at the whole arm, from the shoulder down to the hand during activity, the energy that the hand receives comes from the base of the hinge, known as the shoulder complex. Our shoulders and upper back muscles deliver the strength and control of our daily motions to resist our clients with both of our arm's. Through our barriers, the palms and finger tips are the only thing that leans onto our clients. However, the energy for our creative deliverance is traveling all the way from the balls of our feet.
For most artists, this maybe their working posture... The front of the calves are actively holding the forward lean position controlling a foot pedal. The thigh muscles are actively helping hold our pelvis' forward to engage a forward lean. Actively leaning into our opposite sitting bone to gaze under our machines in order to see the connection of needle to skin. The lower vertebrae is curved, actively holding this position, while the upper back is leaning over to allow our hands to meet the client comfortably. For hours-on-end... Our bodies are machines, though they are not designed to sit for long hours in this active position. The human body will obtain an injury eventually due to this repetitive posture, especially for long durations. It is not only the body itself that will suffer, but also the eyes due to strain and dryness from the lack of blinking. In the end, the outcome of an artist's work will suffer.
As an active person, sitting for long periods of time did not become bothersome until early last summer. Let me share with you a short version of what I experienced over the last nine months. I was working through long tattoo sessions, taking a lot of long flights, driving long hours, repeatedly and eventually all that sitting started to cause some tightness in my hip, turning my left foot out. I did some more stretching then usual, but the pain radiated more and more intensely. I had a deep pain in my left buttock, sometimes alternating to my lower back.
This pain interrupted everything, including my sleep. In my history I have had my share of aches and pains that I could work out myself, this ended up being a bit more complicated then that. I looked towards a professional for assistance. First I started with getting massages more often. Then to a chiropractor to see if my spine was out of line. Though my spine was straight, my right hip was a little higher than my left, most likely due from tattooing and the slight lean into my left hip while working. My lower back was a little too arched from over correcting my posture.
I had a MRI done and it showed a good amount of inflammation around my lower sacrum, and two discs starting to degenerate most likely from years of my active lifestyle. Though the deep pain in my left inner buttock was responsible for my current condition, known as piriformis syndrome. I sought out for an acupuncturist who was familiar with this condition, after the first few sessions, I noticed a great deal of improvement. I was in need of something more intense to help loosen this muscle and acupuncture seemed to work for me, as well as adding in cupping massage. I also started to really concentrate more on strengthening my hip abductor muscles and gluteus maximus muscle with specific exercises. The use of resistance bands aided in strengthening exercises... Click the link to see more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/497017-resistance-band-exercises-for-piriformis-syndrome/. Piriformis Syndrome is more common than you may know so let me tell you what that is...
What is Piriformis Syndrome?
The piriformis muscle is one of the small muscles deep in the buttocks that rotates the leg outwards. It runs from the base of the spine (the sacrum) and attaches to the thigh bone (femur) roughly where the outside crease in your bum is. The sciatic nerve runs very close to this muscle and in some people (around 10 percent of the population) it passes straight through the muscle's fibres! If the piriformis muscle becomes tight it can put pressure on the sciatic nerve and cause pain, which can radiate down the leg, commonly known as sciatic pain.
A common cause of Piriformis Syndrome is having tight adductor muscles (inside your thigh). This means the abductors on the outside cannot work properly and so put more strain on the piriformis. This is caused by prolonged sitting, sleeping in the fetal position for long hours, even intense biking can irritate this muscle.
Most artist will complain of low back pain, though that low back pain maybe stemming from a tight piriformis. When the hip flexers and glutes become weak from sitting, this small piriformis muscle picks up all the slack to hold the joint together... Becoming bigger and stronger than it needs to be, pressing on the sciatic nerve. There are a number of stretches and strengthening exercises to help with this area as well as the lower back.
If you are not having any issues yet and are curious, do some research and find what works best for you. You maybe pleasantly surprised when you get to stretching, and notice how tight those muscles are. If you do deal with pain on a daily basis, please understand that pain is not something that you should have to live with. Do take the initiative, and extra cash to seek professional guidance with any injury. You owe it to yourself, your passion for tattooing, your art and your clients to make your health a top priority.
I felt the need to share my experience, because I feel I am an active person, I try to be active at least four days a week. I stretch throughout the day, I eat a healthy well-balanced gluten-free, meat-free diet. I tend to tense muscles with stretches and hot/cold therapy. Inversion tables work really well too and can be a great addition to releasing a tight spine. I arrange my work area to best suit my body allowing to work as effectively as possible, as well as sitting with good posture... A daily practice.
Do not hesitate to take responsibility for yourself. I only let about 2-3 months go by while this pain started to radiate out of my control and interrupted every aspect of my life. It has been nine months now and I feel about 80 percent better. I have committed myself to visiting my acupuncturist every other week if my schedule allows, and during more intense work weeks, I see her once a week. Deep tissue massage only irritated the area, so I found light massage worked best for me.
Here are key points to focus on:
*Get active, strengthen and stretch
*Eat a healthy diet
*Take breaks often
*Exercise your eyes, and keep them moist
*Arrange your workspace for your convenience, a rolling tray is a great addition to getting you off a counter workstation
*If you can, get rid of a foot pedal
*Use the lightest machines possible
*Sit with good posture and move your clients to best suit your posture (Don't worry about their comfort too much, as long as they can sit well for you.)
These adjustments will aid in the longevity of your tattoo career. If you are currently healthy with no issues, but do not have a daily regimen then I suggest you start before you find yourself needing damage repair. If you are dealing with pain, and it comes and goes or is consistent, I suggest you get a head start on a professional opinion because dealing with pain should not be something you have to live with. I refuse to believe that. It is hard when pain seeps in and starts to interrupt your creative flow during a tattoo session, let alone the hours of having to sit and draw for each session. As artist we sit a lot, and that sitting needs to be balanced with activity and a healthy diet, as well as enough rest to allow the body to heal and prepare itself for the upcoming day. If you have any questions or concerns don't hesitate to e-mail me, I would love to give some helpful information and guidance. Until then, live purposefully and take care.
Melissa Fusco can be found at http://missmelis.com/.
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