For what seems like months now I’ve had low-level pain in my right elbow and upper forearm.

While at Penguicon I discovered that it was hurting a LOT — so much, in fact, that I deigned to allow others to assist me with my luggage (I carried what I could in my left hand only) and shot left-handed at Geeks with Guns.

Eric S Raymond heard me griping about it and gave it a quick palpitation. He pronounced “tendonitis” as the diagnosis, and prescribed lots of ibuprofen and some heat. Indeed, that seemed to work well.

This week I scratched out a week of strips, but it took a long time (three work-days rather than the usual 1.5) because my arm kept getting tired quickly.

Today I painted a miniature. When I lowered my arms after finishing, my right elbow said “I’ve been quiet up until now, but since I see that you’re done I’m going to hurt so much that you are going to become physically and mentally exhausted. Ready? OW!” And sure enough, within minutes I was drained. I took some ibuprofen, but as anti-inflammatories go it was too little, too late (read “you shouldn’t take that much, and you should take it sooner.”)

I suppose I could stop working for a couple of weeks — I’ve got the buffer for it, certainly — but I don’t want to. Work is what I DO. If I’m not working I’m BORED, and boredom sucks. So I’m going to be more religious about taking the ibuprofen BEFORE work, lubing up with Icy-Hot, and maybe (just MAYBE) compensating by doing all of my erasing left-handed.

I may also try to find a way to work the word “tendonuckingfitis” into casual conversation, but only when I’m out of ibuprofen.

16 thoughts on “Elbowwww”

  1. Ice. Ice is your friend. Get some of those gel-pack soft ice packs (or a bag of frozen corn or peas is good in a pinch), cover them with a towel, and apply to the area for 15-20 minutes at a time.

    I have pretty nasty repetitive strain (tendinitis in my hands/arms/shoulders), and I waited too long to start treating it – until I finally got to the point where a physical med doc was asking me to start think about careers that don’t involve using my arms. 🙁

    I’d suggest trying to cut back how much you’re doing, and if feasible, see a doctor. Repetitive strain can really hurt you, and catching it early is key.

    Ice, though, in the meantime. Ice helps even when the “vitamin I” can’t touch it.

  2. If you have someone within your local community who does professional-grade massage and is familiar with myofascial work, they may well be able to help out with this.

    1. Yes, massage and physical therapy are both very helpful with this sort of thing.

      Also, something like Alexander Technique could be useful – it’s sort of an ergonomic retraining that is especially helpful for artists, musicians, anyone who works with their body, really. It’s helped me a *lot*. It’s similar to physical/occupational therapy, but more integrative – it focuses on doing things with the minimum effort/least tension possible.

  3. Seeing as both comic-making and model painting bring on the pain, and you’ve relatively recently taken up the latter as well as boosting the former, it looks like you set yourself up for a near worst-case scenario? Could it be a rather bitter irony that your new favorite hobby, which makes life all fun, is making your work rather less than fun?

  4. With all due respect to ESR, he’s not a doctor, and you should probably see one to get the elbow checked out. If it is indeed tendonitis, I’m afraid avoiding the motions which are causing the irritation/strain will be part of the treatment. Also, the doctor (and/or physiotherapist) should be able to recommend exercises (after the rest period) which may help in avoiding future problems. Ice and ibuprofen (or similar) should also help (not convinced about “Icy-Hot”, though).

    (disclaimer: I’m not a doctor either, but I had a form of tenodonitis in my left knee (caused by a hard knock in just the wrong spot rather than overuse), and I’m currently recovering from something similar in my right knee (that one is overuse, though) )

  5. I agree with recommendations to see a doctor, and they can tell you if a physical therapist is in order. If you don’t currently have health insurance, look for a “sliding scale” clinic – bases fees on your income.

    As for painkillers, I personally like naproxen (Aleve) the best. FYI, ibuprofen is safer than acetaminophen (aka paracetamol in the UK), as there’s a wider gap between the effective dose and the damaging dose. And for continual day-long painkilling, it is possible to stagger doses between the three so that just as one is wearing off, another is kicking in; I suggest you only do this with a doctor’s or pharmacist’s supervision though. They are not supposed to interfere with each other, but putting that much drugs into my system at once w/o someone guiding me just gives me the heebie-jeebies.

  6. Just for a crazy idea – see a doctor and let them have a look. You’d hate to miss something serious or obvious and make the problem worse. I’ve had people who’s opinions I trust implicitly tell me what’s wrong with me, and sometimes they’ve been completely off the mark. I’ve also had the same people tell me to get myself to a professional and quit trying to tough it out. Don’t mess with the tools you need to make a living, or keep yourself sane. It’s not worth the risk.

    1. Agreed. Without a proper diagnosis and treatment recommendation from a doctor, you could easily end up doing more damage. That would be a Very Bad Thing.

  7. Another thing you might look at is the ergonomics of your work space. If your drawing table (or your miniatures table) puts you in a slightly awkward position, it might cause these symptoms. It wouldn’t show up immediately and might not hurt more when you’re working than at other times, but the slight strain can compound given the amount of time you spend at it.

    I have a kneeler chair that I use at the computer. The height slips as I sit on it and has to be adjusted every few weeks. I can always tell when it needs adjusting when my shoulder starts hurting — the seat is low enough that using the mouse causes strain in my shoulder. I raise the chair and my shoulder stops hurting.

    1. Short answer: I know it’s not that.

      Long answer: I’ve been drawing for seven-plus years now, and have experimented with ergonomics quite a bit. I’m careful that way. The injury is almost certainly a hold-over from extended Wii-play (the timing is right, the hand is right, and the pain is very similar), and while working does make it worse, going through Wii-bowling motions does infinitely more so.

      1. Bowling and Wacom

        The injury is almost certainly a hold-over from extended Wii-play (the timing is right, the hand is right, and the pain is very similar), and while working does make it worse, going through Wii-bowling motions does infinitely more so.

        Ouch. I just took another advil to get me over last night’s Wii-bowling. I find I injure myself worse if playing in a group.

        If it does turn into a recurring problem, the creator of Dilbert found drawing on a computer let him use larger motions. He would simply magnify the area he was working on:

        About 2 years ago I had some hand problems (from overuse) and switched to drawing directly to the computer, which is easier on my hand. I have a computer monitor that allows me to draw directly to the screen (as opposed to a tablet on the desk). It’s the 21SX by Wacom. It cut my production time in half. It’s different from drawing on paper, and there’s a learning curve of a few months to get it down. But once you do, it’s amazing. I use Photoshop for the entire process now. Then I hit a few keys and e-mail it to United Media.

  8. I also recommend seeing a doctor/physical therapist/occupational re-trainer. Maybe it would help to express my view on pain? It’s your body’s way of saying “Hey, don’t do that!”. Taking painkillers and then doing “that” anyway does not address your body’s original complaint and healing does not occur. (I do not have any professional qualifications, just experience with pain.)

  9. Colouring in April 30 strip

    Hi. Sorry to hear about the arm. Sounds inconvenient.

    Anyway, I just thought I’d mention a minor glitch in today’s (Monday 30th April) comic. Kevyn’s mouth area switches from grey to flesh pink in the second panel. I imagine that you will receive the same notification from many other people, but I would hate for this to show up in a printed copy because I assumed that someone else would let you know. It would be too much like letting someone else win at Kill Doctor Lucky 🙂

Comments are closed.