Ergonomics for artists: Prevent neck strain and correct forward head posture

Like a lot of people, I have spent a large portion of my adult life hunched over. Between working on my computer, making mosaics, knitting, crocheting and painting I’ve managed to develop the ever-so-attractive “modern day caveman” posture. In fact, I slouch so much that it has started affecting more than just my appearance. I have nearly constant neck pain, and for the past few years have been experiencing numbness and tingling that is most likely related to my posture.

I think this is a common problem for a lot of artists and craftspeople. The type of work that we do often requires long hours where we’re either looking down or bent over our work. Sadly, over the years that poor posture can have some serious health consequences. Here are just a few of the things that forward head posture can cause, with links to the studies backing up the data:

  • Neck pain. When your head juts forward, it puts an incredible amount of strain on your neck. This typically results in chronic neck pain that can range from mild to debilitating, depending on the degree of forward head posture. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17368075)
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. One study found that patients with carpal tunnel syndrome had a greater degree of forward head posture and less cervical range of motion than people without carpal tunnel. Although the study couldn’t determine whether the forward head posture caused the carpal tunnel or vice versa, it stands to reason that improving forward head posture may help decrease carpal tunnel symptoms. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19721213)
  • TMJ Syndrome. A 1995 study showed a link between forward head posture and TMJ. The study found that patients with temporomandibular disorders exhibited far greater forward head posture than those without. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7488986)
  • Decreased Respiratory Function. In 2009, a study done in Greece found a strong connection between increased forward head posture and decreased respiratory muscle strength. In other words, patients with forward head posture had far less respiratory function than those without. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19187335)

Other studies have linked forward head posture with headaches, dizziness, persistent asthma, osteoporotic fractures and a higher mortality rate among the elderly.

standingdesk
My standing desk may not be pretty, but it gets the job done!

This past month I had a bad flare-up of neck pain, so I finally decided to do something about it. I started by converting my desk to a standing desk. Pre-manufactured standing desks cost $700.00 and up, which is way out of my budget, so I made do by taking the casters off my old desk and screwing it onto a large wooded shipping crate that my dad had built for one of my mosaics.

I also used an old speaker and a storage box to raise my monitor to head-height. They say that your eyes should be even with the upper third of your monitor to prevent neck strain.

The whole setup is definitely not pretty, but it gets the job done. Now, instead of hunching over in front of my computer while I work, I can alternate between standing and sitting.

Aside from improving my posture, I’ve also found several other benefits of standing while I work. For one thing, I tend to move around a lot more, which is good for my muscles, joints and waistline. I also find that I waste less time online. It’s a lot less tempting to get sidetracked by a video of cute kittens if you have to stand up to watch it.

By placing my art supplies between my easel and my sitting area, I can quickly move between the two.
By placing my art supplies between my easel and my sitting area, I can quickly move between the two.

I’ve also revamped my art area. I dug out my easel and set it up so that I can stand while I paint. Working vertically is a challenge with watercolors, but I’m hoping it will result in some cool new effects in my art. I also moved my brushes and paints so that I can reach them easily from either the standing or sitting position. That way I can quickly move between the two, splitting my time evenly to prevent strain.

Finally, I started doing a series of exercises that are designed to eliminate forward head posture. After just a few days I can already see and feel a significant improvement…so much so, in fact, that my boyfriend even commented on it.

If you spend a lot of time bent over working on art or crafts, it’s well worth taking the time to think about how to make your studio more ergonomic so you can protect your body. Here are a few suggestions of things you can do:

  • Split your time between sitting and standing. Too much sitting isn’t good, but neither is too much standing. Try to find a balance between the two, switching back and forth throughout the day.
  • Take frequent breaks. If standing isn’t an option for you, you can also help relieve muscle strain by taking frequent breaks. Set a timer to remind yourself to get up and stretch your legs periodically. Even better, pause what you are doing a couple of times an hour to do five minutes of stretching or gentle exercises.
  • Do exercises to improve your posture and strengthen your neck, back and abdominal muscles. By retraining your body, you can adopt better posture habits that correct forward head posture, helping prevent neck strain and all of the other associated problems. Here’s a link to some great exercises to get you started: http://modernhealthmonk.com/neck-pain-and-shoulder-pain-upper-crossed-syndrome/

 

If you have any tips you would like to share on how to make your space more functional and posture-friendly I’d love to hear them! Thanks so much for reading.

Beth





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2 Comments

  1. I had this same issue- headache going down the back of my neck to the point of dizziness- I finally realized it was the height of my table top easel that was causing the issue- I finally DIY’d my table top easel to a more comfortable height where it is now at eye level and I can’t look down only straight ahead- It has helped tremendously. It took a little getting used to as old habits die hard but definitely worth not having pain over. I took a 2 tiered wooden shoe shelf from my closet turned it upside down and put my table top easel on it and used the “shelf” underneath to store my paints. I would love to post a picture of my DIY space but I don’t see a link on here to do it.

    • That sounds like an awesome solution. If you can upload your picture somewhere online (Flickr or Photobucket, maybe?) you are more than welcome to post a link to it here in the comments. I’m sure we’d all love to check it out and get some more ideas for our own spaces. Sorry there isn’t an easier way to add photos here. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! 🙂

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