Common Photographer Injuries: Ways to Prevent & Care for Them

Backstory: Last fall, I was struggling with back pain and carpal tunnel. (From too much shooting and editing). This summer, I was in so much elbow and forearm pain I could barely sleep. (Again, due too much shooting and editing). At some point, I stopped suffering in silence and complained on my Facebook page. Usually this doesn’t help, but guess what? I got great answers from fellow photographer and sports medicine specialist, Jen Chesnut of Jen Chesnut Photography that truly helped me to feel better — and much faster than I’d even hoped for.I was so grateful for her advice that I wanted to share it with those of you who may be hurting — or at risk of getting hurt — as we head into the Holiday Season, traditionally a photographer’s busiest period.I asked my group to help me identify the most common areas of photographer aches and pains. Jen compiled the answers and then graciously wrote up this amazing post, chock full of tips and links to help you feel your best.

Let me start by introducing myself.

I am Jen Chesnut, a photographer specializing in families and high school seniors. However, my degree and the bulk of my experience and work is in the sports medicine field, as an athletic trainer, along with my work as a strength and conditioning coach. I have had the privilege to work with clients/patients that ranged from children to professional athletes, but my main passion is just helping people to feel better, be more active and not live in pain. I also find talking about these issues so much easier then typing them and creating a blog post! As a photographer and someone who has suffered many injuries and had 13 surgeries, I get what pain and discomfort can do to you, so let’s get started.

First off, please understand that I am giving you suggestions for you to look into, research and discuss with your doctor. I am not giving you medical advice or promising these suggestions are a quick and easy fix. If you are experience any discomfort or dysfunction, please first consult with your physician. Now about those aches and pains associated with all the shooting and editing…

Today, I am going to start at the pelvis, because working on this area can many times fix the ailments in other areas.

A key thing to remember is everything is connected in your body. It is connected by webbing that spans throughout your body, called fascia (if you want to learn more about fascia, check out “The Core Connections” podcasts by Erica Ziel. Around the pelvis and core area the fascia is the densest, with multiple fascial lines crossing over and meeting there. Therefore, if we can fix dysfunction and lack of true strength here, we can fix a lot of things and prevent many other issues from arising. Good posture and proper core strength are key components to overall pain free health, believe it or not.

Whether you know it or not, your pelvis can easily become out of alignment. Sometimes you just compensate for this without any idea it has happened, and other times it elicits as symptoms in the back, hip, knee, shoulder, neck, or other area of the body. So this is why it is always good to start here. A practitioner can physically check your pelvis for asymmetry, but when it is just you, you can try this simple exercise I call the “hip walk exercise” to use your own muscles to realign your pelvis. Here is a video by Kelly Starrett showing how to do the hip walk exercise (start at about 4 minutes, 50 seconds). Sometimes you will feel or hear an audible pop (typically with the inner thigh squeeze), but not always. The key is to see how you and your symptoms feel after the exercise. You many need to do it a few times a day or week until you are feeling better.

Frequent complaints related to pelvis issues are low back pain, sciatica, tight hip flexors (“from sitting too much”) and hip pain.

• Stretching your hip flexors is so important for most of us. A kneeling hip flexor stretch, pigeon stretch, and the mermaid stretch (Pilates) can be great places to start.
• Hip flexor stretches (just pay attention to the first 3 stretches)
Mermaid stretch (start watching at 5:37 – while this video is geared towards pregnant mamas, it can be applied to all)
Stretching your piriformis can also help with low back and sciatica type discomfort (My tips are to sit on the edge of your seat, keeping your back perfectly straight throughout the entire stretch, only hinging from the hips. Do not round from your back. If you feel like you are stretching the nerve and NOT the muscle, it is not recommended to hold the stretch for more than 3-5 seconds. Rather, you can gently rock in and out of the stretch to keep from making the nerve mad).
• Another tool to have in your kit is KT Tape. And I can’t recommend this tape enough and I always have this tape on me. KT Tape is so helpful for so many people and you can go to their website and look up how to tape for symptoms based on the area of the body you experience it. Here are a few helpful ones:
SI joint (low back, hip, pelvis, sciatica symptoms) 
Low back symptoms
Tight hip flexors
• Learning how to properly engage your deep core is another important aspect and most people do it incorrectly. Not only do you get stronger, by connecting properly, you can also alleviate symptoms and decrease the likelihood of future injuries. Here is a video to teach you how to properly start to engage your core.
• Posture really is everything! Focus on having better posture when sitting, standing, walking, carrying, every movement, by lengthening tall through the top of your head and keeping your shoulders back and relaxed, down & away from the ears.

The next most common sites (I am combining two here) are the neck and shoulder, and they really do go hand in hand.

Again, I would suggest starting at the pelvis and work on the suggestions above to see if that helps first. Common complaints given in the poll for these areas were muscle tension, “straight up pain”, headaches and numbness down the arm. First and foremost, your posture is a major key to correcting issues that arise in the neck and shoulder areas. Think about how you sit at your computer editing all day or what you look like 3 hours in to a wedding, wearing two bodies and holding one up, with rounded shoulders and a protruding neck to put your eye on the viewfinder, to take photos. That could easily be your root cause right there and it is as simple as fixing your posture!
Stretch your chest muscles (My suggested change to his video: do not allow your fingers to go numb)
Mid back mobility movements to help with shoulder issues (start at 5 minutes).
• Neck stretches: there are a million stretches you can do for your neck just by running a quick google search
• KT tape, again, is a great tool for helping alleviate symptoms, but also a great postural reminder tool.
o Shoulder tape
o Neck tape
• Massage: let’s be honest, after those long weddings (or newborn sessions), you deserve a massage to loosen tight muscles.
The last area that received a lot of complaints was the elbow, mostly the lateral elbow, with many people complaining of “tennis elbow” (also known as lateral epicondylitis). This can be a common overuse injury from the amount of time we spend on the computer, along with how we carry our gear.
• Rule number one, I would avoid carrying heavy objects with just one hand, as that causes a bend in your wrist and puts strain on your lateral elbow. For those of you, who use a wrist grip/holster for your DSLR, see what position it puts your wrist in, especially if it’s a lot of flexion or extension (ideally you want to keep a neutral wrist), as that can be a trigger for elbow pain.
Wrist extensor stretch (this is the muscle that attaches to your lateral elbow and causes the majority of issues – it’s what brings the back of your hand close to your forearm).
• KT tape can be the game changer for this injury (can you tell I love this stuff?!)
Work station ergonomics can really improve your overall aches and pains AND posture.
Ice massage is a great tool for any aches and pains as it allows you to combine massage with ice, and the cold effects go deeper than just the skin surface.

A few key points:

• Posture, posture, posture
• Learn about the fascia and how to properly engage and strengthen your deep core – it is the game changer to living without aches and pains. Erica Ziel has created an amazing program, called the Core Rehab program. It is geared to post-natal women, but I teach it locally and the men love my class and make amazing improvements with it.
• Work smarter, not harder when it comes to the gear you carry and how you carry it, along with how you work at your desk
• Get up and stretch and move often when you are sitting for long periods of time

I hope this was helpful! What we do as photographers is such a great gift to our clients, to capture and create moments and memories they can cherish, remember and keep forever. But, we have to take care of ourselves first so we can do this job and do it well.

All images above are provided courtesy of Jen Chesnut Photography. All rights reserved.

Note from Jessica:

If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing and also liking Jen’s Photography page 🙂

If you’re looking to spend less time editing, try my new QuickFlow actions — clean, efficient edits that you can use with just one click or customize to add even more refinement and polish 🙂

One Comment on “Common Photographer Injuries: Ways to Prevent & Care for Them

  1. Wonderful job of helping others…through the oftentimes difficult art of taking good and kind care of yourself. A beautiful balance to hold. A wonderful zone to find.

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