You have to keep an eye on your work station’s ergonomics. That’s my lesson for the week. I work standing up. I have an easel at standing height, a drawing table at standing height, and a computer at standing height. I find it more comfortable and less fatiguing. Yes, if I sit all day I’m more tired at the end of the day than if I stand. It comes from my undergrad art student days when I first worked standing at an easel. Turns out I like it.

I mention this because I recently started having pain in my shoulders. It would come and go. At first I thought it might be some kind of joint pain, they say everybody gets some arthritis as they age, but stretching and moving my shoulders helped alleviate the pain. That meant it was muscle pain. Stretching doesn’t help joint pain. At least as far as I know.

The pain would come and go and I thought it might have something to do with my exercises. I do pushups a few times a week as part of my routine so I was careful with those. But my shoulders didn’t hurt when doing the pushups. I also thought it might be from bike riding. I ride five times a week and have been doing so for over twenty years. Maybe leaning on my shoulders all those years was doing something to them?

After about two months of the pain coming and going it didn’t seem to want to go anymore. Both my shoulders would hurt but the left one (I’m right handed) hurt more. I was determined to get to the bottom of it. Then I remembered the last time I had any kind of recurring pain. It was about 15 years ago and it was from working at the computer.

My computer is at standing height and I also have a graphics tablet set up on a platform in front of it. The platform wasn’t set up so that I could lean on it as I used the tablet. It kept my arm loose and free. Turns out it was too loose and free. I started to get pain in my right shoulder blade from holding my arm up all day. So I rebuilt the platform the tablet sat on so that I could lean my arm on it. The pain went away fairly quickly after that.

That story ties in because in August (it’s the end of November as I write this) I got a new computer. Since my graphics tablet was from around 2002 (it’s now 2021) it wouldn’t work with my new computer. I had to buy a new graphics tablet. My old graphics tables was about 18 inches wide. The new one is about 14 inches wide. It turns out that I used to lean my left arm on that extra four inches.

The platform (it’s like a small drawing table) that my tablet sit on is about 15 inches wide by 18 inches high. Since my old tablet was a giant square and my new one is a shorter rectangle I have an extra seven inches of table above my new tablet. I’ve been trying out new input devices to put up there to make my workflow easier. I’ve got a touch pad on the right but my right hand uses that.

Over the years I’ve mostly used my left hand to hit all the keyboard shortcuts. If I need to hold down a keyboard button as I work my left hand does that. I leaned it on the tablet as I did that. My new tablet has a dial on it. The dial is for zooming in and out and it can be assigned to do other things too. But where is that dial located? In the upper left corner of the tablet. I found myself accidentally turning it all the time if I leaned my left hand or arm on it. So I stopped leaning.

I also started using an App called “Stream Deck”. That app allowed me to turn my phone into an input device with button shortcuts on it. Instead of hitting a key command I could hit a virtual button on my phone’s screen. I’d put my phone on the left side of my tablet platform and hit it with my left hand. My free floating and not leaning on anything left hand.

So with my new computer and tablet my left hand and arm ended up doing some new task all the while not leaning on anything to rest or take the pressure off it. None of the movements were strenuous but after time they added up. My right shoulder was hurting a little bit too probably because my whole posture changed a little with the new tablet. It’s easier to lean on a big eighteen inch square tablet than a slender fourteen by nine inch one.

So what did I do? I built something on the left side of the tablet platform that I could lean on. I took a six inch wide piece of scrap wood and screwed it to the existing wood. My new cordless drill is working great but the way.

The new wood wasn’t quite the correct height so I ended up putting a 12x2x5 inch cardboard box on top of it. It was a box I happened to have as it was part of the packaging of something I bought lately. It ended up being the perfect size. I even had a piece of flat foam from another package that I put on top of the cardboard to make it more comfortable. I like it when I can reuse stuff.

My shoulders immediately felt better after leaning my left arm in its new spot all day. By the end of the week they were feeling fine. That was until I lifted some really heavy grocery bags. Normally this would barely phase me. But I guess since my shoulders weren’t really back to normal it made them sore again. But not in the same spot. That’s what happens sometimes when one muscle is sore then the others ones that have to compensate for it get sore too.

At least now I know why my shoulders are sore and it’s just muscle pain. That’s the type of pain I’ve felt meany times over my life and though it sure hurst at least I know it will go away. Chronic pain is a whole different ballgame. That’s a game you don’t want to play. I’m glad I don’t have to at the moment.