Getting a tattoo may be a painful affair but giving one can hurt too, say scientists who found that tattoo artists strain the muscles of their upper back and neck far more than recommended levels to avoid injury.
Researchers at The Ohio State University in the US observed 10 tattoo artists who worked while wearing electrodes that precisely measured their muscle activity.
The electrodes gathered data for 15 seconds every three minutes for the entirety of each tattoo session.
Though a single tattoo session can last as long as eight hours depending on the size and complexity of the tattoo, the sessions used in the study lasted anywhere from one to three hours.
Researchers found that all of them exceeded maximums recommended to avoid injury, especially in the muscles of their upper back and neck.
They also used a standardised observational assessment tool to assess each artist's posture every five minutes and took a picture to document each observation.
Some reasons for the artists' discomfort were immediately obvious, researchers said.
They sit for prolonged periods of time, perching on low stools, leaning forward and craning their neck to keep their eyes close to the tattoo they are creating.
All 10 tattoo artists exceeded recommended exertion limits in at least one muscle group.
Most notable was the strain on their trapezius muscles - upper back muscles that connect the shoulder blades to either side of the neck, a common site for neck/shoulder pain.
Some exceeded limits by as much as 25 per cent, putting them at high risk for injury.
Tattoo artists suffer ailments similar to those experienced by dentists and dental hygienists, researchers said.
Like dental workers, tattoo artists perform detailed work with their hands while leaning over clients.
One of the main problems is that the industry does not have specialised seating to support both the artist and the client, said Carolyn Sommerich, from Ohio State.
"There's no such thing as an official 'tattoo chair,' so artists adapt dental chairs or massage tables to make a client comfortable, and then they hunch over the client to create the tattoo," Sommerich said.
Researchers recommended that artists could experiment with different kinds of chairs for themselves, and try to support their back and arms.
They could change positions while they work, take more frequent breaks and use a mounted magnifying glass to see their work instead of leaning in.
They can also consider asking the client to move into a position that is comfortable for both the client and the tattoo artist, Sommerich added.
The study was published in the journal Applied Ergonomics.
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