On the first day of class this quarter, one of my professors started things cheerfully by talking about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and how devastatingly scary it is, especially for people whose entire lives come from repetitious use of their hands — not just their livelihoods, their lives. As he put it, some people were just put on this planet to draw. He mentioned how CTS is normally a condition associated with older folk, but that in recent years those afflicted have become younger and younger, perhaps because of video games, but also because of more jobs that involve typing and such. And yet, the exact cause of CTS is still largely in debate. Common knowledge says it’s caused by repetitive action, but science still says that the biggest risk factor is a genetic predisposition.
So I don’t know just how worried I should be, especially considering the fact that I seem to have very, very poor circulation in my hands. I can put on gloves, wear them for twenty minutes, and my hands will still be as icy as they were before. My forearm will be fine, but my hands will be freezing. There are probably plenty of other explanations for why my hands can’t seem to stay warm, but as an idiot pursuing art as a career, CTS is easily one of my biggest fears, right up there under blindness. If my blood vessels can’t seem to reach my fingertips, how long will it be before my nerves can’t either?
That Tomoko Ninomiya of Nodame Cantabile was recently diagnosed with CTS doesn’t help either. Hers was probably triggered by pregnancy more than her profession, but it made me wonder just how many artists out there suffer or have suffered from CTS. My roommate is one of them. Hers was caused by breaking her wrist a few years ago; she had to have super expensive surgery and wore a wrist brace for a good while afterwards. She’s mostly fine now and even survived the intensiveness that was 24 Hour Comic Day last October, but all the same. I don’t want to have super expensive (and probably painful) surgery or wear a wrist brace.
Currently, I probably don’t draw any more than 3-4 hours a day on a good day, but I’m also having a slow quarter. During finals week last quarter, I probably drew some eight hours a day. I can draw for about 30 minutes at a time before my hand needs a break, at which point I usually shake it around and go to check email and such. After a certain point, I’ll need the breaks more frequently, but it doesn’t really take long to shake off the aching/cramping in my hand and massaging my knuckles helps too. The massaging kind of helps with the circulation thing too, but I’ve kind of just gotten in the habit of pressing my hands against my stomach because it’s always warm there. :|
Even on the days when I draw until my hand wants to fall off and it hurts to even stretch my fingers, like aforementioned 24 Hour Comic Day, everything is usually fine a day or two later. So I don’t know. Maybe I worry too much. No one wants surgery, but at least it exists. I guess my roommate can attest to a reasonable enough recovery (so best wishes to Ninomiya), and I don’t know of any artist offhand that got CTS as a direct result of drawing too much. Besides, there’s really no avoiding that repetitive strain in this field. I don’t really have delusions of becoming a comic artist, but even commercial illustrators have that kind of strenuous work. There are no preventive measures to take beyond those periodic breaks (which are harder to fit in when you’ve got a deadline…). You’re going to draw. You’re going to draw a lot. Deal with it. :(
Oh. PS. Happy (Lunar) New Year!