The Official Blog for Tattoo Artist Magazine

Health Issues With Tattooing (Seth Ciferri)

By Petri Aspvik

Petri Aspvik: What type of physical problems have you encountered do to tattooing?

Seth Ciferri: A lot of it is from sitting all hunched over for so long… I developed this weird muscle mass in my mid back. It was there because I had such poor posture while working, due to a lack of core strength. It’s taken years of weight training, massage therapy, and chiropractic work to get it straightened out. Core strength is KEY in maintaining good posture while working. It will help ensure a long and comfortable career… 

Have you tried plank-bridge static holds for core strength?

Yes. I do a ton of “planks.” I shoot for 2-3 minutes at a time. A lot harder than it looks.

Does wonders for your posture! Did someone make you your workout program or are you self-taught?

A combination of both. I used to see a trainer but it got too expensive. Now in the gym, I just do what I feel like doing, which keeps me a bit more interested.

Okay, continue about the problems…

I’ve also experienced the all-too-common hand, wrist and elbow problems. My hand and wrist got better when Grime turned me on to the red rat grip covers. The squishy ones.

Another issue I had was from reaching over to my station to get more ink, over and over and over, for years and years. It wore out the rotator cuff in my right shoulder, which I’m told by my doctor is why I’m prone to dislocating it. It’s called a repetitive motion injury.

A few years ago I had a serious injury to my right hand as a result of an accident. I ended up getting surgery and was out of work for eight weeks. Almost all of the cartilage in the largest knuckle on my right hand has been removed and the tendon bed surrounding it had been torn, then sliced away to access the joint, then reattached, which has resulted in a considerable loss in range of motion and manual dexterity. I almost lost my hand due to sepsis, and I’m lucky to be alive. It really could have been a lot worse. When I asked the doctor when I’d be able to tattoo again, his face got really serious and he just said “if.”

That’s all he said?

I panicked. The gravity of the situation had just become apparent. As a result of the injury I had to build myself a pair of aluminum machines, and coupled with the red rat grips they literally saved my career. I suppose I’m just trying to say you should take care of your hands, as you will probably need them.

Do you do any martial arts so when you do get into “accidents,” you don’t fuck up your hands?

Well, I took some boxing classes until I wrecked my shoulder and my hand, but since then, I’ve done very little in that aspect. Jason Kundell does judo, and it seems to keep him happy and healthy, so I’ve thought about checking that out, but I don’t know when I’ll find the time for it.

Have you had to see a doctor, chiropractor, massage therapist, acupuncturist or anything similar, because of problems or because you want to avoid them?

Hell yeah. I have been getting massage and chiropractic work for years. for a while I went once a week for each, but I’ve since only been able to make time for it every two months or so. I really need to get back on my health game.

Acupuncture really helped with my insomnia, which seems to be really common among tattooers for some reason. Probably all the Chinese food, and porn.

Have you modified your work station because you have encountered physical problems or wish to avoid them?

Yeah, I got a .38 snub-nose revolver and put it in a drawer near my right hand.

I mean…

Yes. I learned that by moving my pigment caps really close to where I’m actually tattooing I’m able to avoid the repetitive motion of reaching over to grab more ink. My shoulder doesn’t get as tired. If you keep your elbows close and sit up straight, you’ll be a lot more comfortable. Also, laying your customer down for as many jobs as possible really helps. Even arms. Way better than leaning over a shitty little armrest. Good lighting is also key. Some Ott lights, or full spectrum bulbs will make a world of difference. We’re already fucking up our eyes by working on stuff so closely. Good lighting will only help.

Do you follow a work out regime to keep in shape and healthy?

I try to, but I’ve been super busy lately. When I’m active in the gym I do three days of weight training, alternating upper and lower body. For cardio I chase my kids around and try to run all my local errands by bike. This winter I plan to start doing Cyclo-cross racing. It’s an hour of hell every week. Training for that should keep me in decent shape.

Have you had to change your eating habits in any way because of tattooing?

Yep. Apparently, sitting around for hours all day, every day, is not a good mix with fast food.

We are some sedentary motherfuckers. We sit and tattoo for four or five hours, take a quick break to wolf down some room-temp pizza, and then get right back to work on the next tattoo before remembering that we had to take a piss three hours ago.

In my first two years of tattooing I ballooned up to 200 pounds. At five foot seven, that’s pretty fucking fat. It got really bad when I started to make decent money for the first time in my life. I was hitting fancy steakhouses like three or four times a week. Filet mignon, mashed potatoes, mac ‘n’ cheese. Fuck yeah. Bring that shit on… Next thing I know, I can’t walk up a flight of steps without sounding like a yeti.

So, I went vegetarian and started working out… I managed to drop 35 pounds, and mostly keep it off with moderate work. I fluctuate if I eat like an idiot, or stop working out for a month, but I can usually keep it in check these days.

Bottom line is, you’ve got take care of yourself. You’ll be a total mess before your 50th birthday, if you don’t stop eating crap, and sitting on your ass all day. These days Ii consider myself to be an omnivore, but I definitely don’t ingest junk.

What about spiritual/psychological health? How do you maintain that?

I study Buddhist philosophy and I occasionally see a Buddhist minister for guidance when I feel like shit’s going bad in my life.

These days I’m just trying to adhere to basic Buddhist principles on compassion for one’s self and those around you, and learning to meditate effectively.

I read a lot. Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh, and pretty much anything by Pema Chodron are great places to start, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Another book that really helped me get my shit together was Hooked!: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume by Stephanie Kaza. It’s a pretty clear illustration of why we keep buying ourselves shit, in an effort to fill a void, and seek happiness. I used to be pretty bad with spending money on dumb crap. Cars, clothes, sneakers, CDs, etc. Then I realized I was just trying to make myself happy with all that stuff, but it never worked.

My happiness was right at home, with my children, but I was working so much to support my spending addiction, that I was never there for them. Every time I’d come home, my kids would ask me what I’d bought them. I realized I was doing it to them too. Instead of spending time with them, I was buying them toys to make them feel loved. Once I was able to break that cycle, for myself, and for them, things got a lot better with our relationship. These days I make a lot less money but I’m a great deal richer in other areas.

Seth can be found at Workhorse Irons.

Related TAM Blog Articles:

Health Issues With Tattooing (Marcus Kuhn)

Markus Lenhard: Workplace Ergonomics and Long Term Health Improvement Techniques for Tattoo Artists

11 responses

  1. i needed to read that last chapter more than anything else. Its what i am working on at the very moment. thanks for being candid! Buying shit really is no solution to not being present…

    June 15, 2012 at 3:56 PM

  2. Another good one, Petri!
    Thanks man.
    (Seth too.)

    But you edited out the fisticuffs. That sh*t was funny!
    Ha

    June 15, 2012 at 4:04 PM

  3. And thanks for the candor, Seth.
    I really appreciate the thoughtful answers.
    The idea of books and even practices being shared within the community is cool as well.
    (someone might learn something from it.)

    June 15, 2012 at 4:13 PM

  4. We are some sedentary motherfuckers. We sit and tattoo for four or five hours, take a quick break to wolf down some room-temp pizza, and then get right back to work on the next tattoo before remembering that we had to take a piss three hours ago.

    This hit the nail. I think we can all relate to the lifestyle, and we all know how easy it is to forget to take care of ourselves. I’ve been tattooing 14 years now, and it hasn’t been until the last two that I’ve made steps to enable another 14. If we don’t take care of ourselves we can’t continue to do what we love. Love the interview, love the candid thoughts.

    June 16, 2012 at 1:19 PM

  5. Gonna move the pigment caps closer. I already work with people lying down…and don’t buy random crap. haha

    good info.

    June 20, 2012 at 4:00 AM

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