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”.
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.)
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)
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.
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!