The Pain in Painting- Hand Injuries & How to Prevent Them

Red paint hand- injuries from painting

Ack! It Hurts…

 

I can’t say I had ever thought too much about injuries associated with doing artwork. I’d gotten fatigued while doing long art sessions before, but I would generally just break for a while, rest my hand, and continue on. I had never had any hand injuries until recently.

After painting almost an entire week straight for my art show, I started getting symptoms of carpal tunnel.

Man did it bum me out! I could barely grip anything, had shooting pains up my arm, and numbness and weakness for 2-3 weeks. I had to try and use my non-dominant hand for everything and had to take a long break from all artwork and basic household tasks. My hand and arm started to feel better but I noticed they fatigued more quickly; The healing wasn’t really complete after 3 weeks. I’ve recently re-injured my already artwork-weakened thumb and I’ve been careful not to push it too far again.

Having a hand injury is extremely tough when you use fine motor skills to make a living.  Through the duration of my hand injuries, my productivity has been significantly reduced.

This experience has made me realize how important it is to take preventative steps to avoid hand injuries as an artist (or anyone with hands, really).

So What Can You do to
Help Prevent Hand Injuries?


 

If you’re a crafter, knitter, crocheter, artist, musician, use your computer like crazy, or even just do anything with your hands in a repetitive manner, you could possibly develop some swelling, pain, and strain sometime down the line. So what do you to keep things limber?

**It should first be said (as you probably already know) I’m not a doctor, so if you’re having any pain or swelling, you should talk to your doctor. This isn’t medical advice and isn’t meant to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please visit your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you might have about any pain or strain you may have and follow his/her recommendations.

Below is what I’ve learned helps me out personally with prevention of hand, wrist, and arm injury:

 

  1. Make yourself take breaks, even if you aren’t feeling fatigued.
    Don’t press your limits.

    I can paint for about 3.5 hours before I feel strain in my hand. I’ve found that waiting 3.5 hours before I take a break has lead to onset of injury in the long run. A couple 15 minute breaks to shake out my hand and stretch it over the 3.5 hour work period helps me keep things loose. I recommend finding your limits… and then staying away from them.

  2. Pay attention to your posture. Stop that hunching!

    I’m definitely guilty of bad art posture. I’ve been caught Quasimodo-ing over projects on many occasions.  When you have weird posture, some muscles get strained in weird ways and you can end up overcompensating with others. Try and sit up and have everything at a comfortable level for working.  If you aren’t comfortable, stop and readjust yourself or your workspace before continuing.

  3. Get your stretch on.

    I’ve found some amazing hand stretch routines on Youtube that help me a lot.

    One of my favorite videos is by Smart Stretch and can be viewed here– Wrist, Hand & Finger Stretching Routine – Active Isolated Stretching. It teaches a large variety of stretches. I also like to just shake my hands around like I’m flicking water off of them to loosen them.  That can provide some relief as well.

  4. Hot and/or cold compresses and gel packs.

    If you’re starting to feel some strain, you can try hot and cold compresses/gel packs.

    Hot compresses/gel packs are useful when you’re having joint stiffness (which is common when you hold your hand/fingers in a fixed position for a long time). Heat increases blood flow and causes muscle relaxation.

    Cold
    compresses/gel packs reduce blood flow to an area to help reduce pain caused by swelling and over-extension.  You can read more about thermotherapy and cryotherapy here.

  5. Wrap or brace your hand for added support.

    I wrap my hand with a self-adhering sports tape for support when I know that I’m going to be painting for a long time to support the muscles. If you’d like to have something more long-term than sports tape, you can buy stress relief gloves for crafting at arts & craft stores or online. They are often fingerless gloves that are made of flexible materials. Some of them even have copper in them which is supposed to help increase circulation.  I also personally wear a wrist brace when I feel my wrist and hands are getting overworked so I don’t continue to overuse them.

Well, that covers what I’ve learned about that helps me keep my hands from getting seriously injured.

Do you have any tips that you use to keep your busy hands in good shape?

Have you had any hand injuries you’ve had to work with before?

I’d love to hear your tips and stories.

 

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Comments (8)

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Thanks for putting together some tips for preventing and treating hand injuries. You make a good point about how important it is to make sure you are easy on your hands especially if you use them a lot. Since I type a lot at my job, I will have to make sure I pay attention to my posture and start stretching my fingers and wrists.

Ryanne Levin

You’re welcome Marie! I don’t always remember to go easy on my hands but I’m slowly getting better about it. haha I wish you great hand health throughout your adventures in typing! 🙂

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Jo Keithley

I just recently started painting and apparently I have some good natural talent, already painting a piece for a lady at church. This really helped since I’ve only painted four pieces so far and after my last one my hand ached for days even though it only took me about five hours which really concerned me. Thank you so much for the imput!

Ryanne Levin

You’re very welcome! Glad my post may have helped a bit, and I’m so happy to hear you’re getting into painting! I hope your hand has been feeling better with any new pieces you’ve been working on. 🙂

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Nathalie Blais

Thanks so much. I already have a bit of arthritis in my hands/body. For the past week and half I’ve been fixing up and painting my daughter’s appartment it’s very big and not my first time with some aches. But this time around OMG!! Its throbbing and I can even close my hand. It’s shooting all the way up to my neck, not fun. I still have 1 more room to do and then some faux finish and stencil. Will try right now. I know you totally understand that pain. Lol

Ryanne Levin

Hi Nathalie, oh yeah, I definitely understand the pain! haha I still run into bouts of tendonitis here and there when I’m working a lot, but I recover much faster now thank goodness. Painting walls is a BIG time consuming job. Lots of work (and especially with the special finishes you’re doing) so I’m sure your wrist is super tired! I’m so sorry to hear you’re in pain. 🙁 I hope at least that some of these tips can help you recover a little faster. Feel better soon!

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William Edwards

Hi, some really good tips here! What sort of wrist support do you wear/ do you have any suggestions or links? I’d like to purchase one but don’t know what type is best, any hints would be great!
Thanks

Ryanne Levin

Hey William, great question! I actually have 4 different supports I personally use– some at the same time depending on the situation. I own a compression glove, a soft wrist brace wrap, an elbow support wrap, and a wrist brace with a metal support in it.

I often use the soft wrist wrap if I’m just doing regular work with breaks in between. So that’s kind of a daily use one for me. If I’m doing a ton of work for long hours, I’ll use both the wrist wrap AND an elbow brace because I’ve noticed I get pains up to my elbow from too much strain as well. The elbow brace helps support my full arm movement better and as a result, my wrist tends to inflame less quickly. If my fingers are feeling swollen or sore as well, I’ll add in the compression glove under the wrist brace. The last one– the wrist brace with the metal support insert– I use the least because it inhibits my fine motor movements, but it’s been very helpful when I’ve already injured myself. It makes it so I can’t move my wrist around because it’s longer and has the metal bar in it, so I’m less likely to tweak it further. They also offer some of this type with an attached thumb brace.

There are lots of brands and types you can try– I’m sure you’ll find your favorites. I’ve personally only tried 3M Futuro and Mueller so far, but I can link the ones I’m currently using:

SOME OPTIONS:

Soft Wrist Braces:
Mueller Wrist Support Wrap and 3M Futuro Wrap Around Wrist Support

Hand Compression Glove:
The one I currently have isn’t top quality; it’s some cheap off-brand one I got a long while back that has been losing its stretch pretty easily. So… I don’t know about a specific recommendation. haha However, there are all types you could try. You can take a look at some brands on Amazon here.

Elbow Support:
3M Futuro Elbow Support

Wrist Brace with Metal Support (support is removable):
Mueller Carpal Tunnel Wrist Stabilizer

Hope that helps some! Let me know if you have any more questions for me. 🙂
I’ll add my suggestions to the original post in case anyone else in the future is curious as well. Thanks!

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