A Pain in the Neck

Nine out of ten Americans suffer from headaches, some occasionally, some frequently. Some headaches are dull and throbbing, others cause debilitating pain and nausea. Jewelry makers are not immune and because of their work, may have more headaches than others.

You may take a pain pill and hope the pain goes away. However, some research (Duke University Evidence-Based Practice Center in Durham NC, in 2001) shows that chiropractic manipulation may be an effective treatment option for tension headaches and those that originate in the neck. (Not recommending treatment, here. Just saying there is an option for those who are interested.) The study found that chiropractic manipulation, for most patients, resulted in almost immediate improvement. Such treatment had significantly fewer side effect and longer lasting relief of tension-type headaches than use of a commonly prescribed medication. In addition, a 1995 study in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that those who ceased chiropractic treatment after four weeks experienced a sustained therapeutic benefit in contrast to those who used a commonly prescribed medication.

Ninety-five percent of headaches are primary headaches—they are not caused by disease. The headache itself is the primary concern. These include tension, migraine, or cluster headaches. To relieve your mind, only 5 percent of headaches are warning signals caused by physical problems. (In other words, it’s probably not a brain tumor.)

Headaches have many causes or “triggers.” These may include foods, environmental stimuli (noise, lights, fumes, stress, etc., nothing, of course, that jewelers are affected by…) and/or behaviors (insomnia, excessive exercise, blood sugar changes, etc.). The greatest number of headaches are associated with muscle tension in the neck. This results from sedentary activities that are spent in one fixed position or posture. This causes increased joint irritation and muscle tension in the neck, upper back and scalp causing your head to ache.

So how can you reduce the chance you’ll get a headache?

  • If you spend long hours at the bench–before a show or during the run up to Christmas—take a break every 30 minutes to an hour and stretch. The stretches should take your head and neck through a comfortable range of motion.
  • Low impact exercise—walking and low-impact aerobics–may help relieve the pain associated with primary headaches. However, avoid heavy exercise if you’re prone to dull, throbbing headaches.
  • Avoid teeth clenching which creates stress at the temporo-mandibular joints (TMJ) that connect your jaw to your skull. (Difficult when dealing with a tight deadline or demanding customer, but do your best.) TMJ irritation can lead to tension headaches.  Upper teeth should never touch the lowers except when swallowing.
  • Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day to help avoid dehydration which can lead to headaches.

Avoid food triggers such as:

  • Caffeine in chocolate, coffee, sodas, and cocoa. (No! Really? Yes, really.)
  • Foods with high salt or sugar content (see comment above) which can cause migraines that result in sensitive to light, noise or abrupt movement.
  • Alcoholic beverages that can dehydrate you and cause headaches.
  • Some headache sufferers may want to avoid high-protein food, dairy, red meat. You’ll have to experiment.

Headaches are no fun and slow down your work. Anything that can keep them at bay is worth trying.


Plume Agate

Graveyard Point Plume Agate from Eastern Oregon. Cutting and photo by David Vance Horste. Courtesy DVH Designs.

Graveyard Point Plume Agate from Eastern Oregon. Cutting and photo by David Vance Horste. Courtesy DVH Designs.

Plume agate is yet another beautiful agate patterned with inclusions. These look like plumes of smoke or clouds—hence the name. Often the agate surrounding the inclusions is translucent. If cut so that the surface is at a diagonal to the plumes, they appear to rise from the depths of a great ocean to burst on the surface. If cut parallel to the plumes, the patterning can be flame-like. And if cut across the plumes, the patterns are like ribbed disks or starbursts. Truly a versatile stone!

The inclusions in plume agate can be just about any color, from white or gray, to yellow, orange, pink, green, bluish or bluish-green. One of the most appreciated is Priday Plume Agate which came from a site in eastern Oregon. It has since played out, but sometimes you can find old pieces. The plumes of Graveyard Point Plume Agate are almost golden in color. Brilliantly colored orange and yellow plume agate is found in Indonesia.

Plume Agate, Stinking Water, Oregon. Photo courtesy Barlow's Gems.

Plume Agate, Stinking Water, Oregon. Photo courtesy Barlow’s Gems.

The beauty of plume agates can be enhanced by setting or stringing them with stones or beads of similar or complementary colors. Some bead artists even combine them with hand-made ceramic beads.

How much does it cost? Like other patterned agates, each plume agate is unique. Prices can from $15 a stone to $150 a stone. (The price may depend on source name—such as the sought-after Priday. However, judge the quality and price of a stone by the attractiveness of its patterning, not by the name of the mine.) Strands of beads run approximately $10 to 15 per strand; large single beads can cost $5 and up. Rough plume agate costs $15 to $25 a pound.

Plume Agate, courtesy Indus Valley Commerce.

Plume Agate, courtesy Indus Valley Commerce.

How hard is it to find? Plume agate is available online and at shows. However, beautifully patterned, well-cut material may be more difficult to obtain.

What kind of jewelry can I put this in? All agates are tough and durable. They take and hold a high polish. They can be worn in any kind of jewelry—even belt buckles, cufflinks or bracelets that take heavy wear.

How easy is it to set? Very easy. Beware of buying stones with thin, sharp edges, however, which can chip during setting.

What are best settings for this stone? Bezels are the most common setting method for agates. As long as they are of suitable thickness, stones may be set with or without a backing due to their toughness. However, some plume agates may have a faceted edge, lending themselves to prong setting.

Artisan/studio dos and donts Avoid thermal shock which can crack agates and other quartzes. Keep them out of the sonic to avoid enlarging invisible fractures. Take care when setting stones with thin edges.

Plume agate, courtesy Indus Valley Commerce.

Plume agate, courtesy Indus Valley Commerce.

Wearer dos and donts Although agates are hardness 7 on the Mohs scale, they can be scratched by harder materials, such as sapphires, garnets, topaz, and diamonds. Avoid storing agates in ways that these other stones could come into contact with them.


 First published in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist March 2012.