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Ready. Set. Shoot: Understanding And Preventing Neck And Back Pain In Photographers

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If you are a photographer who is beginning to notice strain and discomfort in your shoulders or back, take it as a warning sign that you need to make changes before you develop permanent damage. Neck and back pain can develop from the weight of carrying your equipment around and from your shooting techniques. Post-processing your images in a computer program can further irritate strained or overworked muscles. Follow these tips for reducing the strain on your neck and back and easing the discomfort during and after a long shoot.

What causes neck and shoulder pain in photographers?

Several factors contribute to neck pain in photographers. The most common are:

  • Your Camera: The most likely culprit is your camera. If you carry your camera with a neck strap, the weight of the camera when it is not in use rests on the back of your neck. Even a basic camera with a lightweight lens can cause neck strain over time, but the effect multiplies when you use a heavier lens. If you spend hours with your camera dangling from your neck, consider wrapping the strap around your wrist instead. This safeguards you from dropping your camera while working, while giving your neck a rest.
  • Shooting Technique: If you shoot with the viewfinder instead of the LCD screen, you are probably accustomed to holding your arms close to your body and stretching or scrunching your neck to align your eye with the viewfinder. In addition, holding the camera in position for a long length of time until conditions are just right for the shot can cause "holding injuries". You may also discover that you tense the muscles in your neck and shoulders when trying to get that difficult shot. Get into the habit of consciously relaxing your neck and shoulder muscles while shooting and take breaks whenever you feel the tension building up. Try a hot bath, massage or a warm pad on the neck to relieve aching muscles.
  • Post-Processing: Sitting for hours in front of a computer screen to process and edit your photos can place additional stress on your neck and shoulders. Make sure your computer screen is at the appropriate height for viewing. According to Harvard Medical School, you should sit with your back straight and your head level. The monitor or laptop screen should be positioned slightly below your eye level. You should not need to bend your head forward to read or view the screen. Take breaks frequently to rest your neck muscles, and talk to your doctor or chiropractor if you continue to have neck or back pain from computer use, despite adjusting you posture and the height of the monitor.

What causes back pain in photographers?

Back pain can also be caused by the weight of your camera, but the camera alone is seldom the problem. Consider these causes of back pain in photographers.

  • Equipment: If you carry a camera bag filled with extra lens, flashes and auxiliary equipment, the weight of the equipment may put a strain in your back muscles. This is especially true if you use a bag with a shoulder strap and let your camera bag hang to your side. Because your body must adjust to asymmetrical weight, your back muscles can fatigue quickly from the strain. To alleviate the stress on your back, use a backpack-style camera bag instead. The bottom of the bag should rest near your ribs with the weight of the backpack between your shoulder blades.
  • Shooting Posture: It's no secret that photographers often distort the natural shape of the body to get the shot they want. If you find yourself climbing, pivoting or crawling in the grass to capture that elusive image, there is a good chance that your body will complain after the fact. Being conscious of your bodily positions and practicing good shooting posture will help, but there are times where you are going to overextend or twist the body without thinking about it. The best defense against injuries caused by occasional poor shooting posture is to stretch your muscles before a photo shoot and pamper yourself afterward. Try taking a hot bath and soaking away the tension. You may need to rest the muscles for a day or two after a strenuous shoot.

For persistent back and neck pain, consider contacting a chiropractor in your area for help aligning your spine.