The 10 tattoo artists who participated in a recent study from Ohio State University exceeded the maximum muscle exertions recommended to avoid injury, especially in the muscles of their upper back and neck, researchers state.

The study, published in Applied Ergonomics and reportedly the first to directly measure the physical stresses that can lead to injury, also notes that tattoo artists often don’t have access to workers’ compensation if they get injured.

According to a media release from Ohio State University, Carolyn Sommerich, director of the Engineering Laboratory for Human Factors/Ergonomics/Safety at Ohio State, and her former master’s student Dana Keester spent a summer “hanging out in tattoo parlors with our EMG equipment, cameras and a tripod,” observing artists who agreed to work while wearing electrodes that precisely measured their muscle activity.

Via the electrodes, data was gathered for 15 seconds every 3 minutes for the entirety of the tattoo session. In addition, the researchers used a standardized observational assessment tool to assess each artist’s posture every 5 minutes and took a picture to document each observation.

Keester notes in the release that some reasons for the tattoo artists’ discomfort were obvious right away—they perch on low stools, lean forward, and crane their neck to keep their eyes close to the tattoo that they’re creating.

All 10 tattoo artists in the study exceeded the recommended exertion limits in at least one muscle group—some by as much as 25%, putting them at risk for injury, Keester adds. Most notable was the strain on their trapezius muscles—the upper back muscles that connect the shoulder blades to either side of the neck, a common site for neck/shoulder pain.

Tattoo artists experience similar ailments as dentists and dental hygienists, but what sets them apart from those in the dental industry is the lack of a national organization that sets ergonomic guidelines for avoiding injury, per the release.

One of the main problems, Sommerich says, is the lack of specialized seating to support both the artist and the client.

“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,” she says.

Another problem is that tattoo artists commonly work as independent contractors who rent studio space from shop owners, and as such are not covered by workers’ compensation if they get injured on the job.

Keester and Sommerich suggest that ways tattoo artists can help avoid injury can include experimenting with different types of chairs for themselves, supporting their back and arms, changing positions while they work, taking more frequent breaks, using a mounted magnifying glass to see their work instead of leaning in, and asking the client to move into a position that is comfortable for both the client and the tattoo artist.

“If the client can stand or maybe lean on something while the artist sits comfortably, that may be a good option,” Sommerich adds. “Switch it up once in a while.”

[Source(s): Ohio State University, Science Daily]