Add a Mirror to Your Studio Space to Reduce Shoulder Tension

Add a Mirror to Your Studio Space to Reduce Shoulder Tension

Happy 2021! 

Since more of us were staying at home last year, some of us have overindulged our enjoyment of fibre to keep us happy during confinement. Whether you are wet felting, dry felting, damp felting, spinning or weaving, if you continue having fun too long without breaks, someone will get annoyed with you. Sometimes it’s your neck or your hands and wrists or your back. Sometimes you catch yourself slouching or sometimes you hear about it from your body later.

There was a question online about muscle pain from needle felting. It got me thinking about work.  I do miss work.  I was an RMT. I spent many happy years chatting with grumpy muscles and they’re usually less grumpy owners. Most of those 25 years were with people who worked in high tech. There were lots of shoulder, neck, back, arms and some low back complaints. Felters and other fibres artists often have the same areas yelling at them. After having a thorough chat with their muscles (a therapeutic massage), I would send them back to work with homework.  I gave stretches for specific muscle groups and often suggestions to help with spatial or time awareness. (Your RMT or PT can tell you which stretches to focus on from what they find during your assessment)

Pain is the body trying to get your attention. it’s trying to tell you something; often to request you stop doing what you were enjoying doing. If you read one of my textbooks (the red one, by Kessler, Management of Common Musculoskeletal Disorders. another of my memorable textbooks was called Myofascial pain and Dysfunction by Travel.) Dr. Kessler has some interesting insight into pain. He suggests you can suspect if it is a nerve pain or a muscle pain by the way a patient describes it. Each has its own vocabulary. Nerves tend to be; “sharp,” “stabbing,”  “lancing,” “searing”, but can also be “numbing”, “freezing”, “burning”, “chilling”. While muscle vocabulary tends towards; “aches,” “stiff,” “tight,” “hard,” “weak”.


Here is the cover of Kessler’s Textbook, In case you are really curious and want to read about this too.

While this seems to be a large vocabulary, it is not nearly as helpful as the body hopes. You get the message quite clearly but the interpretation of what exactly is the problem and sometimes finding out who sent it can be a challenge. With some pain, the spot you are feeling it, may not be the muscle that started the yelling. You may be feeling levator scapula yelling but it may have been the upper trapezius that started it or the other way around!

I have an odd way of looking at physiology but patients seem to have understood the analogy.

The brain is very good at ignoring the daily mumbles and complaints of the body. You spent years at school sitting and taking notes to practice ignoring your muscles.  The brain will often tell the muscle “I’m busy, call back later”. The muscle can be put off for a bit, eventually to get their complaint heard by the brain, will have to increase the volume or scope of their complaint and keep calling back. The brain will eventually answer and be surprised to hear the muscles are so angry!  If you can catch the muscle annoyance (tension) before it wants revenge, adjust your posture and maybe take a quick stretch break, you will be able to keep doing what you were enjoying for longer!

Unfortunately, when Levator scapula and Upper traps particularly are involved, it can be hard to be aware that they are misbehaving before you get yelled or screamed at. One way to catch them is to use a Mirror. Position The Mirror so you can clearly see how you are sitting or standing to work and the distance between your shoulders and your ears. (while you work, shoulders will often try to drift up and foreword.)  

(Mr. Mer, has been trying to build up his Quads and hasn’t notice his shoulders are elevated.)

Ask your shoulders, “shoulders are you being good?”

They will answer, “Yes of course we are!”

Do not believe them and check the mirror. Drat! They’re gossiping with the ears again!! When the muscles have been annoyed for an extended period of time telling the shoulders to go down directly often is unsuccessful.

The Shoulders says, “You put me here, so this must be the right spot!” and refuse to go any lower.

If it is true that they have grievously lied to you and they are up visiting the ears again… tell them to go up, just a bit, to get their attention.  Hold that position for a moment, then tell them to drop. (relax them as much as is comfortable)

Mr Mer’s shoulder are up towards his missing ears and refuse to go down when asked.
Mr Mer pushes his shoulders up just enough to get there attention and holds them for a few seconds
Mr Mer relaxes his shoulders and lets them fall lower than they were when he was working.

Shoulders will be shocked and apologetic!

Exclaiming, “We are sorry and will never do it again!”  

Be patient with them, realizing they have severe short-term memory issues and will likely be gossiping with the ears again soon.  (you don’t have Alzheimer’s, just your shoulders)

Finally, tell them to slowly roll backwards in as large a circle as is comfortable. (You do not have to practice rolling forward since most of what we do is in front of us). You can roll one shoulder at a time or both together. Whichever feels comfortable. 

Rolling his shoulders backwards was hard for Mr Mer since he was balancing on his tail and finn

 Since they tend to be less than trustworthy when asked directly if they are visiting the ears, check on them visually in the mirror regularly.  If you spot them drifting up or forward try another shoulder lift and drop, then backwards roll to remind them to behave.

As the shoulders drift up and forward (elevation and protraction) you can have compression of the nerves in the front of the shoulders. This can produce symptoms of numbness, tingling, weakness, and decreased Range of Motion in the shoulder arm and hand (depending on what part of the nerve bundle is getting squished). So check your posture and position occasionally while felting/spinning/weaving using your mirror.  

Door mirrors usually go on sale in August and September for students going off to school. They are inexpensive and can be propped up against a wall or if the wall isn’t in a convenient spot a chair will do. As long as you can see yourself, while you work, felting, spinning or weaving, the mirror is in the correct spot. By glancing over occasionally, you can check up on your position and adjust yourself.

Also, watch for the height of your work surface, which can add to muscle irritability if it is too high or too low.

Time:  Another factor is how long you are working. If your project allows you to stop and start it will be easier on your body.  I used to suggest a cassette tape recorder and a half-hour cassette of your favourite music to work to. When you hear the loud click at the end of the side or realize there is no music it’s time to get up and go flip over the tape.  Another trick for remembering to take breaks was drinking liquids (not too much coffee or you will be awake all night!) the Brain is very good at ignoring muscles until they are extremely displeased but it will always answer the phone if the bladder calls! Personally, ice tea is very effective.  Sometimes you don’t even have to drink it, just look at it and the bladder gets nervous.

Mirrors can also be used to look at your work and give yourself a different perspective on your piece. If you are debating a composition or are not quite sure it’s right, It allows you to check your proportions when the image is reversed.

Last thing to think about; the smaller the muscle group used the quicker it will fatigue. So try to avoid tiny finger movements if you can use your hand, arm or shoulder. Sometimes fine motor detail is all that will work but try to do little micro-breaks to keep them from fatiguing or intersperse them with larger muscles working.

I hope this will give you a tool to help reduce tension and let you keep having fun longer so we can have a fabulous new year!

Mr. Mer gets back to work with his shoulders much more relaxed.

19 thoughts on “Add a Mirror to Your Studio Space to Reduce Shoulder Tension

    1. thankyou! i am sorry i didn’t have a mirror to have Mr. Mer demonstrate checking his shoulders with.

  1. That is really helpful, and your approach is somehow more memorable than the usual articles and advice, especially with demonstrations from Mr Mer.
    My problem areas are my shoulders (my husband’s telling me increasingly frequently that I am walking stooped over) and my lower back. I know that if I am in the same position for any length of time I seize up, but I still get lost in what I’m doing and then can’t move. I’ve been telling myself for ages to use my timer to make sure that I move more frequently, but never remember to set it. I will try to do better now (promise!)

    1. Ann, it can be hard to remember to move when you are having fun. the tape recorder across the room playing music was wonderfull since it made an anoying click at the end of each side of the casset. but now its hard to find even a CD player and thay dont make the lowd click! my audio books are wonderfull to listen to but can go on for 8 or more hours, much too long! (an kitchen Egg timer will work but its not as much fun to listen to.)

      so the other option that can distract the brain from too much fun is the bladder! use the evil power of the bladder to remind the brain to get up and move, even if its only to the bathroom. water with lime slices, ice tea, juce,…..but not so much that bladder gets mad at you!!!

      with low back seat hight can be another irritation. i have recently got a fomey foot rest (it was a rist rest but my feet need it more than my rists!) it brings the feet up just a little, so the knees are closer to a 90 degree turn this has reduced the back mummbing for me (if i dont stay seated too long). i also have a pillow behind the lower back which keeps me from leaning back to far. i hope you can find a position that is more comfortable.
      hopefully useing the mirror to check posture will help with the curlling in (protraction). if anterior shoulder is particualarly anoyed there are a cuple more streches to try. squishing an invisible tenis ball that magicly floats between your shoulder blades (scapula) with your arms comfortably at shoulder hight push the elbows back gently. pretenting to squish the inzible tenis ball. it sounds silly so its easy to remember. you dont have to kill the tenis ball just squish it a bit!

      there is also a chin tuck exersize that may reduce the curl if its just muscurlar tention.
      hummm maybe i should see if Mr Mer would like to demonstate for another post?
      CHeck with your doctor if it seems more than a grumpy mucle from too much fun. there are a few other ways for shoulders to curl that they would be able to diagnose. sorry for the spelling Glenn has gone off to work!

    1. Thanks! i think its the dislexia. i realy did have a slightly difernt perspective of fisiology from my class mates! i did still pass anatomy and fiziology ! but it was quite a while ago now! i am often suprized what pops out of my brain ocationaly, its still in there! Have fun!

  2. Great piece, Jan…it is so important to listen to your body when you are working. I also have a bit of a background in bodywork and I am good at recognising the signs but many won’t be.
    This is also really good advice about how good it is to (and excellent ways to) ‘force’ breaks. I don’t have running water in my attic studio but the act of having to regularly walk down 2 flights and boil a kettle ifor tea & feltin water is a great way to force some movement. I also listen to podcasts which tend to be an hour long… good marker point to stop fo a bit as well.

    1. Great idea! i hadnt tryed pod casts! if the mucles are tight when you start working an hour may be too long. but its shorter than my books!!!
      its always a good idea to listen to your body but after years of school we get very good at egnorring it. it can be hard to lurn again to listen. its best not to get mad at yourself just try again. body work dose help with being attentive to mumbles befor thay get out of hand!
      An attic studio sounds wonderfull! but i hope the bathroom is not also 2 floors away!! have fun and keep felting!

  3. Great post Jan, and I loved your use of Mr Mer to illustrate your point! I like the idea of a strategically placed mirror which could remind us occasionally to adjust our posture. As I work with my back to a window, by placing one on the wall opposite it would have the added benefit of reflecting the natural light back into my room….a win, win!

    1. thanks! i think Mr. Mer may have a carreer change to moddle comeing up (if he can get his quods the way he wants them). if you have a mirror across from a window you will also see the vew outside too! have fun and keep an eye on those shoulders they can be very tricky!

  4. Oh my goodness!! Such great info! I think I always sit the wrong way when I needle felt, and have arm pain to prove it. Thank you for such a great post!

    1. You are vary welcome! i hope this gives you another way to check up on your shoulder position. also try to use larger mucle groups if posible, if its not posible try to take brakes regularly. you can also check if you are gripping your needles as if you want to kill something or are holding them only furmly enuff not to drop them on your feet! i should probubly do a note on difernt types of holders since they can help reduce that want to clutch the needle so it wont run away!
      Have fun and keep felting!

  5. I loved this post more than I can express. I’ve had neck and back pain for as long as I remember, and obviously it’s not getting better with age. I’ve decided to do something about it with Yoga and stretching, particularly to avoid my shoulders gossiping with my ears (they do this all. the. time.) My trapeze muscles are like rocks!
    Mr. Mer illustrated the issue perfectly, thank you for the fun images!

    PS – The thing that made THE MOST difference in my posture, ever, was a type of passive stretching (someone does it for you by manipulating your muscles, it’s quite gentle and doesn’t seem to be doing much but believe me, the next day you’ll feel it!) was something called Busquet Methode. It’s originated in France and it’s absolutely life changing. Unfortunately, it’s hardly known at all in the UK, so when I moved out of Portugal my body definitely suffered…

    1. Busquet sounds intersting! i often used a lot of Tragger rockings and deep vibes when i worked with grumpy shoulders. it was vary affective but dosnt seem to be tot any more. passive streches can be vary usefull. i occationaly suggested the use of a piece of pool noodle about the lengh of your back and a pillow. (pillow under head and pool noodle under spine.) this elivates the body a few inches off the floor. lie there, face up, for a few minits letting the shoulders sink back towords the floor. slow deep breathing often helps with relaxing. if you tell your self relax it can be hard to can be stressfull trying to relax! think about breathing and egnor the i must relax idea. when you have done this strech for a bit it may feel like a wimpy strech. if you think you would like a bit more strech you can make the pool noodle bigger (get a bigger one or rap a towl around it) to increse the strech. the passive strech (for short head of biceps, pec major) works well but only if you can comfortable eskape the floor! skip it if you think you may be traped on the floor untill someone comes to rescue you (lets hope for cute fire men or EMT’s!)
      My parrents use to go to Portugal, Dad was a geologist and love the geology there. Mom liked the weather in February – better than our Februarys! all the picures ive seen of England and its lovely contry side looks amazing but likely not as warm as i amagin in Portugal!

  6. Great post Jan! As a former physical therapist, this is a great way to engage people on the subject of body mechanics and posture. Much more engaging than the usual dry commentary from the medical community.

    1. thank Ruth im shure its just the dislexia, i realy do suspect i am interpriting phisyiology a bit diferntly then my classmates did. it was jsut such a fun and exciting topic! i loved Vesiclas, floating garbage cans that magicly drift to a cell wall membrain merge and dump out all the garbage! we need those for my house!!! i also was fasciated by helpper T cells and Memory T cells as thay watched for Virus to wonder by. Memory T cells have the big book of viruses we have seen before and will check to see if we reconize any that are found. strangly most of my class mates did not seem to see the extreem excitement of there activitys. i also had the same problem with streches, Lavator Scapula strech will always look to me like visualy cheching to see if your armpit smells. which is much more memorable than how the teacher explained it. tip head, ear towords shoulder rotate slightly to find the strech. as i am shure you know from work if a patent cant remember how or why thay should try to do there homework its hard to get complyence or improvement.

  7. Oh Jan, you had me smiling all the way through, & Mr Mer demonstrating – brilliant. It will certainly stick in my head.

    If shoulders gossip with ears I loved to hear what activity lower backs are involved in 🤪

    Like all of us here, I’ve spent years coping with mumbles & shrieking, being prodded, poked & needled. A rejuvenation serum would earn the inventor un-countable wealth. Maybe evolution will take us back to being quadrupedal.

    Until then I will tell my ears to stop gossiping, change my leg position and try the mirror – I have the perfect one in store.

  8. thanks Antje, i am glad you enjoyed the post. i think Mr Mer will be looking for a job as a modle once he has made a few augmentations to his fizzeek. (Poked and Needled).

    backs are very sneeky since not only those muscles living in the back, the nerves that run past there but also the abdominal organs can refer pain to the low back! it gets much trickyer to figure out who started the yelling!

    for low back check your chair hight and how the feet are supported on the floor. sometimes as we sit and work we slowch or lean forword towrds the screen. the mirror can help you catch that.
    Have fun!!

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