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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.