I am not a doctor; the information I am sharing in this article is anecdotal and is in no way recommended as solutions to specific problems people encounter. If you are in pain seek an expert and their recommendations, I suggest talking to a professional orthopedist and ergonomics specialist.
I have been painting and drawing professionally for over 30 years. In that time I have not had to have any surgery on my hands or shoulders or arms because of repetitive stress. I think the reasons for this are twofold; I have always kept myself relatively healthy and my weight within normal limits and physical ergonomics.
The companies I worked for before becoming an artist were very in tune with workplace safety and minimizing injury to workers through better functioning equipment and setups. Proper posture and spatial relationships for your traditional studio and digital workspace are important to your health.
I stand at my easel and so I am very aware of the floor and how it affects my legs and feet. While I paint I keep my work at eye level and my palette is set to the height of my outstretched hand when holding a brush. To prevent shoulder problems I turn my body slightly when painting like a fencing stance to minimize shoulder rotation.
I have a carpet and rug under my easel space with an extra bar rug where I stand. This padding helps my legs and feet and protects me from the hard concrete surface of my basement. I paint at my easel up to 14 hours a day sometimes so being conscious of my body and my movement is essential for good habits. I also stretch and do light exercise to prevent tightness in my muscles. If I do overdo it, I take time off and heal, I don’t work through the pain. The time it takes to heal is much quicker at that stage than serious injury and months of rehabilitation.
Having a studio cat underfoot keeps me agile and flexible. I get mine from the local animal rescue. Larry here follows me everywhere and always makes sure he is under my feet or behind me where I can’t see him; it is sort of a Clouseau and Kato relationship.
My digital workstation is set the same way. I have a large size Aeron chair to accommodate my 6’7” height that provides lumbar support and allows me to rest my feet on the floor comfortably. The height of my table is set so I can rest my forearm on it keeping my arm bent at 90% so it doesn’t raise or lower my shoulders unnaturally. The width of my table allows me to rest the length of my forearms so I do not lean on my wrists while I type. I have a medium sized Wacom tablet which is lightweight and I hold in my lap like a sketchbook when I use it. My monitors are set at the back of the desktop so I am never closer to them than the full length of my outstretched arm which is a little more than three feet (36”). I make sure I take breaks when I work on the computer to give myself a chance to rest my eyes, stretch or go for a walk.
Working as a contractor or sole proprietor, it is important to develop proper work habits and schedules when bidding on jobs or quoting delivery dates to clients. Continually accepting work that forces you to hurt yourself physically or mentally means you aren’t very good at what you do and you probably won’t do it for very long anyway because of injury or burn out. I’m an artist for life; caring for me is part of being a smart business person. There are many things in life I can’t control but my health and well being while working, work habits and deadlines are some of the things I can control and I make sure that I do.