I am over two weeks late writing this article. There are a lot of reasons why—for one thing, it’s hard to think of something clever to say about the world of webcomics immediately after writing a six page paper about the Emperor Alexis Comnenus I of Constantinople—other examples include extremely urgent tea drinking, needing to listen intently to the same three tracks of the opera Carmen 14 times through because I can never hit the bloody flat at the end of the aria and I need to know it by Saturday, and wanting to avoid the incessant teasing of my housemates when I use my voice recognition program.
Yes sir, as this article is being written, a casual passer-by would hear not the fountaining sound of fingers on keys, but what my friend Liz calls my "National Public Radio voice." The reason for this being that I’ve had brutish tendinitis since July 2002, without remission. On a really bad day (for example, last Sunday, or "the morning after I let somebody talk me into arm wrestling them"), there is a grinding, overstretched pain that reaches from the center of my breastbone, zangs off my armpit, chews around the inside of my elbow for a while, then squirrels down my forearm into my wrist and fingers. it screws my fine control with a pen; it makes typing singularly unpleasant; it causes me to alternately press my arm against the hot radiator, and bury it under ice packs.
I’ve had physical therapy, and currently am getting acupuncture. I have little squeezy toys, a long, foam poll to stretch on, and a wrist brace that really looks like the sort of accessory an anime character would take into battle with them.
I do not want this to happen to you. So, in the interests of artistic camaraderie, I will share with you what I have learned. If you start to get onset tendinitis and over use symptoms from too much drawing, too much typing, too much writing, or whatever the hell it is you do with those dextrous little fingers, give these a shot.
1 . For godssake, if it starts hurting, stop using it.
2. Stand up and move around at least once every half-hour. Do situps, take a whirl on a stationary bike, stretch and get more coffee. Just keep your blood moving. The best is to get regular exercise, of course.
3. Do not draw in any situation where your arm is pressing upwards against the drawing surface in order to keep the paper in place. Don’t draw on a totally vertical surface unless you have to. The best position is actually to have your drawing surface sloping down and away from you (the same goes for keyboards.)
4. Hand-strengthening exercises are, in fact, your friend. Don’t squeeze anything too hard or lift anything too heavy; when it comes to your tendons, a little goes a long way.
5. If you find yourself using pens that force you to maintain a very tight grip, find different ones. If that’s not an option, brainwash your way into a looser grip.
6. If your hands are stiff in the morning: find a sink with two sides, or two other containers that can hold water and into which you can comfortably fit your entire forearm (or even better, both.) Fill one with moderately hot water, and the other with cold water. Dunk your limbs in the hot water for one minute, and the cold water for another minute, and repeat for 10 minutes. This wakes up your circulation; remember to finish on the cold water.
7. Buy an arm brace and wear it at night. This guarantees at least eight hours of inactivity; a lot of people sleep with their hands folded in ways that cut off circulation.
8. Ibuprofen not only takes your pain down a notch, but it also reduces inflammation, so taking it regularly for a few days can actually help the tendinitis go away.
These are some basic tricks. If after four weeks your symptoms are still going, it’s time to go see the doctor.
I myself am hoping that my arms will eventually get better. It hasn’t stopped me from drawing, although it has cut my productivity and made it somewhat less enjoyable. It’s done awful things to my writing habits (teaching swearwords to a voice recognition program is fun, but it gets old), and when I think about all the hours of my life I’ve spent distracted by or worrying about my hands, I get downright depressed.
So be careful, folks. Because if you’re going to be a starving, misunderstood cartoonist, you should at least have your hands on your side.
* no pun intended. (back)
Illustration by Miguel Esrtugo!