Arm muscle pain from drawign on ipad/tablet?
March 25, 2021 8:38 AM   Subscribe

I recently started having muscular pain in my right arm ( I'm right handed ) around the elbow. I started sometimes using an ipad, with the apple pencil, for making art about 2 years ago and never had any problem but this recent pain has me wondering if it could be related to that. Has anyone heard of this?

I did some online research and saw some various complaints but this seems a little different. It's not my wrist as in carpal tunnel syndrome. And holding the Apple pencil isn't much different than areal pencil so I'm no sure why it would suddenly start. Thanks in advance.
posted by Liquidwolf to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Well, they don't call it repetitive stress for nothing - that's damage that builds up over time, generally unnoticed right up until it announces itself. And you have big important tendons around the elbow that take a fair amount of bystander tension from shoulder and/or wrist-hand use.

I'd start here with these stretches, but you may need to rethink how you position your tablet in relation to your body as well. There's probably various ergonomic resources out there for various art types.

You might also get some relief from a tennis elbow strap, but just because it works doesn't mean you shouldn't also do the stretching and ergonomics, you can still do further damage.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:45 AM on March 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lyn Never
Thanks, I"ll try these exercises. I'm just surprised because I've been drawing my whole life and a professional illustrator for 20+ years and never had a problem, and I don't quite get what's so different about holding the digital pencil and tablet vs a reg pencil and paper in terms of my muscles. But obviously something is different.
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:50 AM on March 25, 2021

I can't speak to the drawing piece specifically, but I've been dealing with elbow pain on and off on my dominant hand and switching to a vertical mouse helped. Maybe the angle of how you hold your pencil is more flat with the ipad? Keeping my hand in a "handshake" position instead of parallel to the table has made a difference for my elbow pain.
posted by brilliantine at 9:00 AM on March 25, 2021

I've also run into this in the 4 or so years I've been using my iPad Pro... I'm not sure exactly what is different, but I suspect it has something to do with the size and portability of the iPad-- there's not a lot of space to rest your arm while drawing, but also you might use it in varying positions as you go through your day? It's strange too, I have worked with traditional media for about as long as you, and I do find the pencil more tiring than those. I think part of that might be down to form and function too: the pencil has pressure sensitivity as a need, whereas you might use a brush or a pencil differently. (I think about this a lot when I use my brush to ink on paper-- I wish there was a way to mimic the line variation you get digitally more akin to how you handle a brush-- tilt and pressure handle differently for a pencil vs a brush, but digital methods flatten the approach a bit.) And compared to a Wacom or other brand, the pencil's form is really slim-- I don't consider myself to have a death grip when drawing but I guess I grip harder when trying to apply pressure thoughtfully.

I hate to say 'throw money at the problem' but I guess that's kind of what I've done over the years to improve ergonomics, and it has helped a lot. I bought this grip
for my pencil and it took a couple of weeks to get used to (the grip isn't soft, which surprised me, and it forced me to hold the pencil differently) but has been huge for my repetitive strain; I also got this SketchBoard Pro this year which has been really helpful to give my arm a space to rest outside the iPad itself. I had used another iPad stand that was really great for keeping at a good healthy ergonomic angle, but my arm would be hanging off in the air while drawing or crooked in straining my elbow. I also invested in a drawing glove with a wrist support-- while it doesn't fix the elbow issue, I tend to think of my drawing arm as a system, so I figure supporting one part will help the other parts down the line too (if your wrist isn't straining, maybe your elbow won't have to work as hard to control lines/etc?) Another thing of course is stretching-- Kriota Willberg's Draw Stronger is a great guide to help with this too.

Hope this helps-- I am currently working on a ton of projects with the iPad, and my body would be shredded without these tools!
posted by actionpact at 9:45 AM on March 25, 2021 [5 favorites]

Building on this, I wouldn't necessarily assume anything is that different about the iPad; a lot of us complain of these sorts of things as we get older. Right around my 40th birthday I started experiencing elbow pain which ended up being attributable to the way I've been holding a mouse for at least a decade. Like brilliantine, I found that switching to a vertical mouse helps.

That said, I do find that I have to hold an Apple Pencil or Wacom device slightly differently than I would hold an analog device, to the point that I'm thinking about investing in an easel again to see if that helps. I'm excited to dig through actionpact's suggestions.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:58 AM on March 25, 2021

When I began intensive daily use of the IPad Pro and Apple pencil, I developed the same problem. My tendonitis-type problems around my elbow were temporary and went away after about a week when I very deliberately changed the position and angle of my right arm just by propping with throw pillows. I still try to change around arm positions, varying the angle, to fend off this problem.
posted by MelissaSimon at 10:01 AM on March 25, 2021

Not going to blame any Apple products specifically but I will report that when I complained to my doctor about elbow pain (which started when I was in my 40s), after he confirmed that I was in software development he noted that Tennis Elbow was one of the most common ailments here in Silicon Valley. The culprit: bad ergonomics and especially, the mouse. He gave me exercises and the best I've found employs a flexible exercise bar, the use of which is demonstrated in this Tyler Twist video.
posted by Rash at 11:33 AM on March 25, 2021

I think actionpact's advice is right on the money. I love my iPad but find that the Apple Pencil is weirdly heavy and slippery. The tablet surface is also very slick...all of this slipperiness means I'm needing to stabilize things in tiny ways that add up to increased fatigue along the whole right side of my upper body.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:32 PM on March 25, 2021

Yes, the slippery surface makes muscles work in a weird way. You can get screen covers that mimics the feel of paper. It gives some traction which is better suited to long sessions.

I personally use a wacom intuos, so I can hold the tablet and pen in my lap at a relaxed angle and look straight at a big monitor while I draw. 8 hours of looking down at a drawing surface no longer works for me ergonomically.
posted by ananci at 9:36 PM on March 25, 2021

Just checking in a few months later to say that I got the SOBA Comfort Grip that actionpact recommended and it's made a big difference in my comfort level. I think that because the grip just nestles in the palm of my hand, I don't need to use any muscle force to keep the Pencil in the correct alignment.

(Still planning to pick up the SketchBoard Pro and the glove when I can, but every time I've checked they've been on back-order.)
posted by Lexica at 2:32 PM on July 6, 2021

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