and when you're only 23 it's not attractive to complain about your sore back
March 27, 2011 4:35 AM   Subscribe

I have pain in my neck/shoulder. It's partially from computer use but becomes most intense when I draw. I need advice on better ergonomic setups as well as safe exercises I could do to strengthen those muscles, or anything else I might do to reduce this sort of pain.

The pain is in the back of my neck/top of my shoulder on my right hand side. (I'm right-handed.) I have no pain on my left side. It intensifies when I spend time drawing. I've tried multiple setups and it seems to happen no matter where I am-- so there's not something weird in my home setup-- but none of them have had any specialty ergonomic equipment of any kind.

I've gotten a massage that helped it temporarily and would like to do that again; I'd also like suggestions as for what kind of massage works best for this kind of pain.
posted by NoraReed to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and I don't think it's from sleeping funny because I only get it in one side. I'm a side-sleeper but I switch sides.
posted by NoraReed at 4:42 AM on March 27, 2011

Some of the exercises in this book, Treat Your Own Neck, helped. I need to get it from the library again for a refresher.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:26 AM on March 27, 2011

I have had similar problems when sitting and working on small sculpture for long periods. One thing that seems to help is to modify the set-up so that you can stand and work. That, combined with diligent stretching and also light weight lifting occasionally seemed to help a lot.
posted by catrae at 5:48 AM on March 27, 2011

If you're mousing with your right hand, switch over to your left. That's helped me with such pain.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:54 AM on March 27, 2011

I had this. In my particular case it was because my shoulders were hunched up by the height of my keyboard and my neck was strained by the height of my monitor.

I raised my chair so that my arms are actually resting on my keyboard at the correct height. I will be adding one of these to my setup as well, I also raised my monitor 9 inches by placing it on a cannister. I now look at it dead on. Standing is the ideal solution but that is hard for most people to arrange at most work stations; these changes worked really well for me and put an end to a lot of pain.

If no positioning changes are doing it for you, I think you'll find that this kind of strain is so common now that any massage professional can help you. There isn't a specialist type of massage I know of for this. I know that the Alexander Technique training (which has scientific merit and is not particularly woowoo) is useful for pianists and performers but I have any experience with it applied to computing. A music school could possibly put you in touch with a practitioner.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:21 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Argh. I *do not* have any experience with it applied to computing. Coffee fail.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:22 AM on March 27, 2011

As someone who has a full-time job, freelances and does art projects I have had similar issues; sometimes I still do. Here's what I do (which includes repetition of some of the great advice above):

- Change position of desk, chair, and monitor where the neck and shoulders are relaxed and not strained up or hunched down. Be mindful of posture.

- Switch mouse hand when you can. This is not always possible though, sometimes I need to do precision work that requires I use the mouse with my dominant hand. When that's the case, I try to keep the mouse closer to my body rather than swinging out wide and changing from my relaxed position to one that's way to the right because my keyboard happens to be in the central position. In other words, sometimes its worth it to acknowledge the primary task you're working on and move the keyboard out of the way so you can use the mouse more comfortably.

- Control the environment. In the winter I find myself hunching more because I'm cold. Weather proofing, a scarf, and judicious use of a space heater in my studio has helped keep things comfortable. I don't have that level of control in the office but I do make use of a light jacket that pairs well with work clothes.

- Take breaks during the work day / studio sessions. But also I try to make sure to take at at least one whole day off on the weekend from any work that could aggravate things.

- Pay attention to your limits and its onset, I find that once the pain starts it tends to compound and take longer to go away so I really try hard to make sure I'm taking breaks *before* it starts but if it does set in sometimes I need to just accept that the project will take longer. Obviously this is super tricky in work and client situations but regaining your overall well being and ability to be productive is worth trying to sort through the tricky situations.

- Try to exercise / be active in other ways where the problem areas can find harmony with the rest of your body.

- When it comes, a painkiller with a muscle relaxing component to it and someone to work on your pain points both help.

Doing all this hasn't prevented me from occasionally feeling pain in my neck and right shoulder, mostly because I haven't completely broke my own posture habits but it has helped a lot. Good luck.
posted by safetyfork at 7:50 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

In addition to the posture/ergonomics stuff that everyone else has mentioned, you might try trigger point massage. I get pain in the same places, and it helps me a lot (and I can do it myself, which saves money.) The theracane is really great for self-massage as well.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 8:13 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Deep tissue massage is what you're looking for, to be distinguished from Swedish, which generally has a lighter touch. Deep tissue therapists use deep, penetrating strokes, sometimes using elbows, palms of the hand, etc to really get into and work out chronic pain and tension. I have a lot of stiffness and pain in my neck/shoulder and the massage really helps me. Yoga is also helpful.
posted by sweetkid at 8:54 AM on March 27, 2011

Darrin Zeer's Office Yoga
posted by PickeringPete at 8:58 AM on March 27, 2011
posted by PickeringPete at 9:04 AM on March 27, 2011

I've gotten a massage that helped it temporarily

IANAD, but this suggests that your muscles are too tense, not too weak. You say it's not your setup. So the key would be to figure out how you're tensing your neck and shoulder when you draw, and then to stop that effort, again and again, while you're drawing. Otherwise, you can get the best massages in the world and do all the stretching you can stand, but if you continue using those same muscles in the same way, you'll eventually wind up with the same pain. The best technique I know for working this kind of attention to the body is the Grinberg Method. There may be others. Good luck!
posted by Paris Elk at 9:12 AM on March 27, 2011

What's your "drawing" setup? Are you working at a drafting table? Animation disk? Wacom tablet? Cintiq?
I've had problems similar to yours after a few months of intensive Cintiq use. The thing sits so high up off a regular desk that it's tough to find a good ergonomic balance. Your arms should be roughly at a right angle sitting at your desk. I had been sitting too low for both the desk and the Cintiq, so I grabbed a chair with adjustable height and jacked it way up to the top. It's too high for proper keyboard ergonomics, but it's good for the Cintiq. If your feet come off the floor, make sure you have a footrest - whether it's the fancy ergonomic kind or just some old cardboard box.
Now, I've also been doing Yoga for the last year, at least once a week, which I wholeheartedly recommend for anyone who has to spend too much time at a desk. (As long as you can find a good class, which I understand can be tricky. Try contacting any nearby physiotherapy clinics and see what they say.)
Not sure if it's the chair or the yoga or both, but I haven't had the same problems return.
posted by TangoCharlie at 9:39 AM on March 27, 2011

I've had similar issues for years. Yoga is good but the biggest help for me was building a stand-up desk and raising the height of my monitor. The standing-desk seems strange but once you get used to it, it's really great. It forces you to take breaks every few hours and helps concentration too. I find I'm less likely to slip into browsing catatonia when I'm at the desk.

Often I feel like my neck stiffness is closely related to stress so watch that too.

Oh and a hot bath is also really nice.
posted by mr.ersatz at 10:31 AM on March 27, 2011

I get this also. If I don't take care of it I can end up with a muscle spasm that makes it so I can't move my neck.

Here are some of the things that have helped me:
- adjusting the height of my chair. I tend to have my chair too low, forcing my arm and shoulder up unnaturally.
- when I feel tension I imagine the tension as a fist and I unclasp it. I repeat this about 20 times every 1/2 hour or so. Also, bringing my shoulder blades to the center and moving them down, imagining I'm tucking them into my back pockets.
- yoga. Some particular simple poses that really help: Plain ol' mountain, Cat and Cow and just bending at the waist and letting my arms dangle.
- when it gets bad I take an ibuprofen, wait 20 minutes for it to kick in and then take a really hot shower. Sometimes it's nice to do the fist exercise and yoga stuff in the hot shower also.
posted by tinamonster at 1:22 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

This sort of thing is a chronic issue for me.

I find that weight training (with free weights) helps a lot, simply because moving everything in my shoulders through a full range of motion frees things up. Stretching helps, but not as much. Yoga is also good, although I kind of suck at it, which makes it hilarious. Basically, movement with resistance does the trick.
posted by ysabet at 2:17 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older kids' book about a devil stealing food while on a...   |   How do I get out the mucus in my chest? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.