See these torture devices? This is what I have to deal with when I get too excited/overloaded with work and I draw and draw and draw with no regard for the warning aches in my wrists.
I know a lot of other artists suffer from tendonitis/carpal tunnel syndrome, and webcomic artists are especially prone to it since we spend a lot of time hunched over keyboards too. (I’ve noticed typing seems to aggravate it more than drawing.)
Here are some tips I have learned the hard way:
- Don’t assume the pain will “go away eventually” and just keep drawing. Trust me, it will not. It’s only downhill from here. The pain means you’ve already injured yourself. Take a break.
- If you do press on anyway, you’ll have to wait longer to heal. When I first had my doctor see me, he said to take a minimum two week break from drawing and typing. If you are like me, that’s like asking me to stop breathing for that long. Do you want to die?? Do you?? I didn’t think so. Put the pen down and take a break.
- It takes a LONG time to heal. It took me about two years to stop feeling the effects when I messed my wrists up really bad the first time.
- Once you feel better, the instinct is to immediately jump right back into drawing/typing/whatever activity caused your repeated stress injury (hey I’m not judging) but be careful not to overdo it and hurt yourself all over again! It’s not like a videogame health bar that always replenishes back to full. I’ve noticed that once I got tendonitis, it never fully went away, and the more often I induced it with bad habits, the sooner it comes back after doing the same amount of drawing. Pay attention to your activity and to your body telling you it’s time to stop before it hurts.
- This video of wrist exercises helped reduce my pain a lot, and is also good for preventing it in the first place.
Take care of yourself, artists. Your hands are your livelyhood. Don’t take them for granted!
Also be aware: carpal tunnel syndrome is anatomical - you won’t ‘give yourself’ carpal tunnel by doing repetitive motion things if you don’t have the anatomical potential for it, but if you do have wrists that can get it, repetitive motion (like typing, or drawing, or engraving) can cause it to flare. If you’re prone to flare-ups, try sleeping in braces to help keep your wrists straight - it’ll help with the inflammation.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is often not painful, and presents as numbness in your first through third digits (the thumb, pointer, and middle fingers). Do not keep doing stuff just because it doesn’t hurt. Your nerve is compressed! If you don’t rest and let the inflammation go away, you can end up with nerve damage in the long term (I have nerve damage in my non-dominant hand from it).
Carpal tunnel syndrome can also be corrected with surgery! It’s outpatient and takes about 10 minutes per hand under local anesthesia. It takes about two weeks to heal fully, and about two months for the scars to stop being sore. The first few days after you get it can be very painful if you’ve had carpal tunnel syndrome for a long time - your nerves are used to being numb and suddenly they aren’t. It’s like when a limb that has been asleep really hurts as it wakes up. I had carpal tunnel surgery on both hands, and it was really really worth it - I have absolutely no carpal tunnel symptoms in my right hand, and very little in my left (see again: nerve damage) so if surgery is an affordable option for you, you might want to talk to your doctor about it.
I bolded two of the points above because I really, really wish I’d taken that advice when I got it, even though it probably would have meant quitting my job at the time.
Some other tips - having been to the very brink of nonfunctional hands (like I couldn’t carry groceries and was in severe pain all the time) from carpal tunnel and tendinitis due to typing/mousing, I managed to restore my functionality to to “hurts a bit/gets a bit numb for a couple of days if I do too much in the way of chatting or video games” using the following NONSURGICAL methods: