functioning fingers for active artists

26 May

This post is a little different than most of my regular posts, but I feel the need to distribute a bit of pertinent information to ALL of my artist friends out there; those of you who rely on your hands to create, work and live really ought to read on… Back in January while working a crappy part-time job, I developed tendinitis in my dominant hand due to constant, repetitive gripping motions. My hand had to be immobilized (ie: NOT USE IT AT ALL) and I of course had to quit my job (because I couldn’t perform it, but also because it would only become an endless source of injury). It took 2 full months of recovery until I was capable of fully closing my right hand to grip or hold things. Apart from the absolute inconvenience of trying to live an every day life with just one arm (try putting your hair up…), I was also unable to do any of my consistent creative outlets. It took a toll on me both physically and emotionally.My hand has since healed, but it isn’t quite 100%. There are days when I wake up with it aching, perhaps due to the weather, or an awkward sleeping position, etc… Other times it begins to hurt if I have used my hand too much in one day, or if I am doing repetitive gripping tasks like dishes or gardening. These pains would be annoying to anyone, but as an artist who relies on her limbs to produce, it is a constant battle I do not want to fight everyday. I have started a few techniques that have helped my recovery progress and I thought would be helpful to share them with you.Artists and people who use their hands constantly need to be aware of the problems that can arrise out of constant, heavy use, and thus should be proactive about preventing these issues from crippling their creations, careers and dreams. Carpal tunnel, DeQuervians syndrome, arthritis and tendinitis are the four big health issues that can be detrimental to an artistic career that relies on healthy tendon, joint and muscle function. However these afflictions can be easily avoided if you remain proactive about prevention. Number one, and this can be said for overall body health, but DRINK PLENTY OF WATER. Your hands and arms are filled with precious tendons and multiple muscles that can become tight and irritable if they are not properly hydrated. Think of metal gears cranking without any lube, same idea; water helps to diminish tendon, joint & muscle friction. Remember in school when they taught us that our bodies are 70-80% water? They NEED this special clear fluid to work properly!Of course like water, a healthy diet will aid in your overall body function, but when it comes specifically to tendinitis, acid-producing foods should be avoided (high-fat meats & white bread/rice). Fruits and vegetables are obviously the most encouraged as they are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber and for the most part non-acid producing. Pineapples, kiwis, strawberries, bananas and apples all contain a natural anti-inflammatory called bromelain which can help heal aggravated and inflamed tendons and muscles. The vitamins present in fresh produce help boost your immune system which fights infection and repairs the body. Also some people swear by supplements like glucosamine or zinc which are intended to help reduce tendon and joint pain if you take them consistently. Apart from eating and drinking healthy, stretching is one of the biggest things people overlook. I am positive that many artists start their day by just sitting down at their desk, picking up their pencil or turning on their computer and getting straight to work. The issue here is that your body isn’t prepared for the demanding (and usually repetitive) tasks you are going to put it through. Think of a gymnast or a long distance runner… would they ever begin a routine or run a race without warming up/stretching first in order to ensure their bodies are ready? As artists we tend to disregard the rigors of creativity. We need to realize that a lot of these motions and actions that we put our hands and body through daily can be extremely strenuous on our joints, tendons and muscles and can ultimately lead to injury or aches. Here are two great links to some stretching exercises that have been particularly helpful to me. The first is a general list of hand/wrist warm-ups, stretches and strengthening exercises that should be performed at least once a day. If you consistently stretch your hands, wrists and arms, you will be far less likely to develop the 4 above listed hand afflictions. The second is a stretching video that my friend Anika Starmer passed along to me which includes a few exercises that are invaluable when it comes to recovering from carpal tunnel or tendonitis. In particular this video illustrates a stretch that was extremely helpful to the palm and the thumb area; it is a stretch I hadn’t seen in any of my other searches for therapy.  I hope this post has been informative and that you all start to be proactive about preventing some of these possible career crippling afflictions. So please take better care of your paws… ’cause trust me, life’s pretty tough without ’em.

***NOTE: I am not a doctor, physical trainer or nutritionist! This is simply my OWN advice, from my OWN experience & should be heeded as general information for prevention & overall health. It is not meant to be interpreted as a professional medical diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing constant pain in your arms, wrists or hands PLEASE visit your family physician for a proper individual medical consultation.

20 Responses to “functioning fingers for active artists”

  1. Crystal 26/05/2011 at 12:33 #

    Jessica such a great post! My mom had carpal tunnel and I saw her in braces for a good part of my youth. I don’t stretch that often and know that I should, because like my mom I have a brace for my right hand for when I lose feeling in my fingures. The doctors say I shouldn’t worry. But you are right I NEED to be more proactive in not walking down my mothers path. I never was able to learn from others mistakes but this one I think I am going to have to :)
    Thanks for the reminder, I know I needed it.
    Much Love,

    • naturesmyfriend 26/05/2011 at 12:52 #

      I’m sorry to hear your mom struggled with hand issues. I was lucky to only endure 2 difficult months and the occasional pain nowadays. Yes, Crystal, PLEASE take care of your hands -you are such an amazing creative, and with a family history of these kind of physical problems you should definitely need to be extra good to your paws! I am happy to have reminded you with this post. Looking forward to your mail art reply. <3 jess

  2. Kye Sangha 26/05/2011 at 12:50 #

    Great post! I was really lucky because when I was an apprentice my Chef showed me the stretches–They really work! I was a chef by profession, then a Massage Therapist & now I paint & speak ASL….I have some small problems & arthritis, but I do not have major problems with my hands, & by all counts, I should. Now I encourage all the people I know who have hand heavy professions to do them-I’m quite the zealot, actually. Gotta take care of your hands!

  3. Thuraya Lynn 26/05/2011 at 13:42 #

    Informative indeed. I had some strain pressure on both my hands back in highschool, I couldn’t just /not/ use it because school works and stuff.
    Took my hands six months to recover.
    Some of the tips you’ve mentioned are some things I usually do these days, I admit I’m careless at times and forget about warming up and end up cranking my hands a little too much.
    Thanks for the reminder, we should take better care of ourselves. ( ^_^)

  4. anna 26/05/2011 at 13:49 #

    great post, and something so few of us get taught in art school! I’m just back to work after about 11 months of dealing with DeQuervains, including 2 operations… I triggered mine jewellery making- I’d always been so concerned about my back and posture, I never even thought to worry about my wrist and hands!

  5. Melanie 26/05/2011 at 18:33 #

    Thank you for the reminder Jessica! I had trouble with my right wrist and arm for years, it only subsided after I stopped working at a desk 40 hours a week. I still do get twinges from time to time, and your post is such a good wake up call to continue the path of prevention. Thanks!

  6. ezerd 27/05/2011 at 18:00 #

    Excellent & informative post. Thank you. And the stretchy chipmunk is so beyond adorable = melting my little heart. Love love.

  7. anika 27/05/2011 at 20:49 #

    This is a great post. I for one have started regularly stretching my arms & hands after knowing about what you went through. Prevention is key!

    I agree with ezerd–the stretching chipmunk is the cutest. I can imagine him doing all sorts of other yoga poses. hahaha. also had to share this tidbit I recently read about: apparently the tough, fibrous core of pineapples (which I’ve always loved for some reason) has the highest concentration of bromelain. The pineapple companies actually sell it to pharmaceutical manufacturers who process it into anti-inflammatory medication! That’s why canned pineapple doesn’t have a core!

  8. sandy 27/05/2011 at 23:11 #

    I learn the drawing and the painting and I take a lot of precautions when I use a knife or a cutter. I don’t want to hurt my hand.
    But I didn’t think of the problems of tentinite or of arthritis. I shall make exercises of warm-up.
    Idem for all the arm which can suffer when we draw a long time.

    Thanks for your post.

  9. Heedless Ceramics 28/05/2011 at 09:35 #

    I am glad you are taking good care of your hands! You are an awesome artist..thanks for the informative post :)

  10. eraser carver 28/05/2011 at 11:34 #

    Excellent post, the one thing I tend to miss out on is drinking plenty of water – need to get into that habit. (I am too addicted to Yorkshire Tea.) My yoga teacher has given us lots of great exercises to keep our wrists and hands supple and boy do I need them – the toll that printmaking, spinning and knitting/crochet has taken on them over the years is now starting to show. Thanks for highlighting this topic.

  11. Carolyn 29/05/2011 at 10:10 #

    A couple of years ago I developed tendonitis in both hands and arms. It took a full year to recover and I still do my PT stretches even now to keep things in shape. One thing I didn’t realize before this happened is that it is very important to have good posture and upper body strength in the chest, back and shoulders to avoid putting undue strain on the arms.

  12. Marcus 31/05/2011 at 21:17 #

    Wow I wish I’d had some of these stretches when recovering from any of my 4 arm surgeries! Thanks Jess! Definitely going to keep this post in my faves and start doing those stretches before during and after any art making!

  13. cArol 20/02/2012 at 22:23 #

    Thanks so much for referring me here. I didn’t know you when you posted this. I wish I had because I had never given thought to stretching before using my hands. I will definitely keep all this in mind as my thumb heals. Now I must go as I am not supposed to be typing. ; )

  14. Louisa 17/04/2014 at 08:24 #

    Wow thanks for all the useful advice, will be using this from now on! I recently acquired a running injury and since have been learning all about how to heal it and avoid doing it in the future – made me start to think about how much repetitive strain I’m probably getting in my hand and wrist from painting and drawing 9-5 every day!

    Thanks! x

    • naturesmyfriend 19/04/2014 at 07:52 #

      Hi Louisa, Glad this article could be of use to you. Make sure you also seek the help from a medical professional about injuries and appropriate stretches. Best of luck!

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  17. michele warner 29/04/2016 at 11:28 #

    Thank you for the post. I found it very helpful. I have been a professional artist for years. So this was very helpful and I felt immediately better after doing the stretches and the video.
    Now we need one for our painting arm shoulder. ;-}


  1. Stretching as an Artist | Art by Sara Drescher Braswell - 10/01/2014

    […] I have to admit that I do not stretch my body as I should.  I am trying to be more consistent at it which is why I am writing about it.   I hope that sharing with you will help me be more proactive!  I do have some pain in my wrist, hands, back and neck associated with my artistic work.  I use magnetic rings and bracelets to help and also some neuromuscular therapy, both with success.  I know that taking more breaks and stretching would help me more as well.  So please remember as an artist it is important to take care of your body.  Your body is your most important tool!  Here is a link to an article I found that has specific stretches for artists.  If you find others, please share them! […]

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