What's Hurting Your Tattoo Artist?

Xavier in Stories

Go look up 'tattoo artist health' online and you'll get tons of articles, explained in all the horrifying ways possible.

About the web of risks that comes with getting a tattoo. It's always about how easily you can get infected by any blood-borne disease or they'll show you the most disgusting pictures of gangrenous tattoos by the worst scratchers ever. Those are all important considering that tattooing is a sensitive form of art and all in all, must be handled only by capable hands. But of course, those 'capable hands' must also be in good shape, no matter how skilled those hands may be; without the right attention, it can crumble down.

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I'm not saying that tattoo artists are exploited, because responsible artists know their limits and what their body won't be able to do. That's why some artists can't be booked at certain times. But that's not to say that by controlling the workload, it will guarantee a fit and working body to function in top shape all the time. It's just that, people assume that tattooing is sitting around all day, making art. It's not.

The artist can face just as much health risks as the clients. The former is also more exposed to health hazards, encountering blood from different people everyday along with the contamination of equipments, which must be either regularly cleaned or replaced.

If you can recall in an episode of Miami Ink, Chris Garver revealed that he's been afflicted with quite a biting back ache that has been going on for years. It's taking its toll on his tattoo career.

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The Strains and Drains

Let's start with the basics. Tattooing demands the regular use of fine motor skills. This involves the hands and the eyes. Aside from the weight of the machine on your fingers, the prolonged hours of focus on a surface in close proximity can put a strain on the eyes. Things like this can really mess up anyone's eyesight.

Ami James
Ami James

But the most common problem tattoo artists face is always the upper body area. Since this is the part of the body that receives the most strain, neck pain, back ache and numbness of the upper limbs are the most vulnerable. It doesn't always work its way up or its way down. It varies with the position. Usually, it's the upper back, where the pain develops from the pose tattoo artists adapt when working (usually lasts for at least 2 hours)-- hunched in a certain angle. It has something to do with congestion of fluids in the strained part which contributes to the pain/numbness.

Scott Campbell
Scott Campbell

Aside from the back ache, the machine can also put a strain on the fingers, wrist up to the lower and upper arm area. One can experience both numbness and soreness, during the whole process. It's the body's natural response to discomfort with keeping up the same position at a lengthy period. According to a specialist who has worked with tattoo artist's muscle ache problems, the front muscles on the arms and chest develop tightly. This calls for a number of exercise to alleviate the throbbing and dullness of the muscles.

photo by by inkstruktor
photo by by inkstruktor

Carpal tunnel syndrome is also a common problem for many tattoo artists. The hands are probably the most used body parts tattoo artists use on a daily basis. When they're not working, they're probably sketching or painting, along with the everyday activities every one else does.

Getting a tattoo
Getting a tattoo

Another issue is dehydration. It's not a common problem, but it does happen. A tattoo artist friend Kean, shares about how sometimes he can lose track of the time during a session, and with the combined heat and pressure, the need to replenish can often be neglected. Especially when some sessions can last for 6-8 hours, with minimal break. It's best to keep water bottles within reach and a five-minute break, which may relieve the bunches of nerves notched up in your stiff position.

Photo by Tim Snyder
Photo by Tim Snyder

Some of the basics every practicing tattoo artists should be aware of is the knowledge of the equipments and tools he/she may use. Like what we've said before, it's very easy to buy a tattoo machine, but it's going to take more than that to consider yourself a professional artist. You're working with needles here, those tiny things are no joke. The very same points which embed ink to fine pieces of art can be the same ones to wreck your inner system. All it takes is an infected individual and a wrong prick. That's what rubber gloves are for.

Choice of ink
Choice of ink

Another issue is the choice of ink. There are many high quality ink being produced these days which lessen the risk of irritants and contamination. There is now even a vegan ink line. But with costs, some still opt for the ones with lower quality-- resulting from minor allergic reactions  to infection from nontuberculous mycobacteria (a species found in contaminated tattoo ink), to both artist and client.

Getting a tattoo
Getting a tattoo

While non-physical factors may seem to be irrelevant with body aches, they may contribute in summation in the long run. A combination of stress, pressure and intellectual unrest can lead to lose of focus or contribute to migraine. Both may hinder you from being more productive and from continuing work. Apart from a fit and capable body, a sound mind is also essential to the

Tak-INK It Easy

Mike Giant, photo by Backyard Bill
Mike Giant, photo by Backyard Bill

Just because tattoo artists get to do what they love doing for a job doesn't mean that it's all uphill from there. Like any job, tattooing as a career can encounter a variety of medical problems that requires attention. Frequent visits to the chiropractor and massage therapists can do a great deal on the most-used parts of your body in tattooing. Keeping a good balance on diet, working hours, exercise and rest is also good way to start.'

Good balance!
Good balance!

Other activities which may improve the muscles and lessen the aches include acupuncture, yoga and meditation. And in between sessions, short breaks may be spent with minor stretching exercises and a quick water refill.

Nick Baxter shares with TAM, that an adjustment of workspace can help as well as watching your diet and taking vitamins regularly. He explains further with TAM, how regular exercises strengthen the muscles and ease the joints.

Tattooing
Tattooing

My favorite form of exercise and physical training is crossfit, which is a fitness system designed around natural functional movements that target the entire body, as opposed to repetitive isolation exercises with movements one never uses in their daily life. Part of crossfit involves weight training, but with emphasis on only the largest/most heavily used muscle groups. So this is something I try to do when my hands and forearms aren’t too strained from tattooing, which can be a challenging balancing act.

Black Onyx Tattoo Studio
Black Onyx Tattoo Studio

Adjustments in your workspace must also be taken care of. There may be modifications with the chairs, arm rests, and the placement of the supplies. The artist's weight and height must also be considered because not all furniture are a size that's built for all. It may take a while, but with testing positions and more alterations, you might find out what works for you that doesn't put much tension on your body. You can also switch to lighter rotaries as well whether or not to make use of foot pedals. Good investments are custom work stations which includes fine, adjustable tables, ergonomic chairs and good light source for the eyes.

photo by dennissloan21
photo by dennissloan21

All in all, we can assume that the basic keywords in tattoo artist's health are Balance, Good Regimen, and Maintenance.

photo by dennissloan21
photo by dennissloan21

Disclaimer: This article does not contain everything that covers a tattoo artist's health. This is for information purposes only, gathered from tattoo artists, acquaintances practicing the profession and other sources. Every treatment and regime differs from one person to another.

Xavier

@Xavier

When she's not writing for Tattoodo, Xavier likes experimenting with art and organizing local music shows. We're kidding, she's probably asleep. Follow her on Instagram @claudia_strife

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