The Waving Flag: A Painting Injury?

Sunday 17 September 2023

A Painting Injury?

No. Not cutting your fingers with a scalpel or stabbing yourself on a pike.  This is a bit more serious and a cautionary tale for all avid modellers and painters.  Please bear with me as the background is important.

For some time I've been suffering with a problem with my left shoulder and the left side of my upper back.  In 2019 it got a lot worse and I thought I'd injured myself in the gym.  I had tingling fingers and pains in my left arm.  My GP thought I might have something more serious so I had an MRI scan and was tested to see if I had Multiple Sclerosis.

Thankfully all the test were negative and I was referred for physiotherapy.  A set of simple exercises eased, and then eliminated, most of the trouble with my back and tingling fingers.  My shoulder still had the odd twinge but nothing too serious.

Lockdown came and went.  I painted a lot; almost every day.  The twinges persisted.  I tried all sorts of stretches many of which helped but nothing really eliminated the problem.

Then I moved house.  Decorating the new house keep me very busy and I slept like a log most nights.  Once this was done I returned to painting toys soldiers and going to the gym.  The twinges were the same as they'd always been but my sleep was now being disturbed by pain in my left shoulder.

Finally, I'd had enough.  This week I booked an appointment with my new GP's physiotherapist.

Diagnosis & likely cause
It turns out I have Stage II Adhesive Capsulitis commonly known as Frozen Shoulder (that's really stage III).  So now I have some really painful exercises to do three times a day for the next month and I've had a steroid injection to manage the pain while I do the exercises.  Did I mention that everything about this problem seems to be painful: the condition; the exercises; and the injection(s).

I'm glad to have identified what's wrong and it looks like it's been caught early.  I'm resigned to managing this in the long term but as long I start sleeping properly I don't mind.  Worryingly, it looks like how I hold things whilst painting may be a contributory factor.

Until this week I held the brush in my right hand (not an issue) and the model on its painting stand in my left.  To get the model under my magnifying glass, and hold it steady, I've developed the habit of placing my forearm on the desk and leaning forward slightly.  I'm told this compresses the shoulder by transferring weight through the joint.  Holding this pose for a couple of hours on a daily basis is clearly not a good thing.

A Change of plan
Painting is a big part of my hobby. I have big hobby plans for my retirement.  The thought of having to stop is frightening.  Changes will have to be made if I am to continue painting.

I had a chat with Ian Marsh of Fighting15s about this and he mentioned a trick he used when he was painting full time.  It's simply to place a box file (or similar) on top of the painting area to create a raised platform on which to rest both wrists during painting.

As luck would had it I have spare box file lying around so I've tried this a couple of times already.  It does improve my posture and resting both wrists seems to create a stable enough painting stance without putting any undue pressure on my shoulder.  Of course, like all new things, it's going to take a bit of getting used to.  At the moment I'm not 100% sure I can be as accurate as I was.  Time will tell.

As an extra precaution I am limiting myself to one hour painting sessions with at least a two hour break between sessions.  It's going to signficantly reduce how much I can paint but "better safe than sorry".

Check your stance
My problem looks like it was avoidable.  So my advice to all avid painters and modellers is to check your posture and stance. Do all that you can to avoid undue pressure on your shoulder(s).

The future
In retrospect, this problem has been developing for a very long time.  I don't expect it to clear up quickly but the exercises seem to working and I've only been doing them for a week.

I won't post anymore articles about this as other people's aches and pains can be very boring.  However, I will add further comments to this one.  So if you'd like to follow my progress subscribe to the RSS feed for "All commnets" using the widget in the footer.


Greg Kelleher said...

I too suffered from a frozen shoulder about 12 years ago. It didn't result from poor painting posture. Rather from overstretching try to connect a network cable under my desk at work. It took about 18 months to completely clear up. Good luck with your recovery.

Vexillia said...

It's ten days since I had the slow release steroid injection in my left shoulder and thirteen since I started my prescribed exercise regime.

I'm pleased to say things have improved: I am sleeping better and my range of movement has increased. The exercises still hurt but they're supposed to. At this stage I don't know if this is due to my gradual recovery or the injection suppressing the inflammation. I suspect it's a bit of both. Time will tell.

My new approach to painting and revised painting posture has allowed me to continue to paint but I'm being careful and sticking to my 1 hr on, 2 hrs off approach. The new posture has changed the way I use a paintbrush: I am now using the point of the brush far more than I used too. This has benefits for detailed work but it has made block painting and lining work seem a touch more awkward. I'm sure I'll get used to it.

Vexillia said...

It's now over two weeks since I had a steroid injection in my shoulder and nearly three weeks since I began the exercise regime prescribed by my physiotherapist. I'm pleased to say that I've made further progress since my last update.

My range of movement has continued to increase and I have been getting far fewer twinges. My gym work has also improved mainly because I've stopped trying to (wrongly) protect what I thought was a muscle injury. Finally, my shoulder is no longer constantly disturbing my sleep.

I'm still getting used to the new painting stance and my 1 hr on, 2 hrs off timetable. Resting my wrists on a box file seems to be working. It has not changed my style (that I can tell), but spreading the sessions out has slowed me down. I was never that fast to start with.

As time goes on it's harder to stick to the exercise regime but I'm determined to keep at it. I still don't know if my improvement is because of the injection, the exercises or both. As before, time will tell.

Vexillia said...

Yesterday I had an appointment with the Physiotherapist. It's been a month since I had a steroid injection in my shoulder. The purpose of the appointment was to check on my progress and decide whether I needed another injection.

To my surprise the Physio was really pleased with how much my range of motion had improved and how quickly it had happened. In fact she was more than pleased; she was genuinely surprised. After checking my left shoulder she checked the right. It's a bit "tight" too so I have to extend the stretches to include my right shoulder.

We discussed having another injection but she didn't think I really needed one. I'm to return promptly if the pain returns. All I have to do is maintain my daily stretching regime. The stretching is probably going to be permanent.

I began to experience pain between my shoulder blades about a week ago. Nothing serious and it is different from the pain that I experienced with my shoulder. The Physio explained this was a consequence of freeing up the shoulder and due to the thoracic muscles that now need stretching. So I have more stretches to do. Good job they don't take long.

I continue to adapt to my new, 1 hr on 2 hrs off, painting timetable. It's working well. I'm beginning to look on painting as a treat which is a nice change. Because of the change in posture, and resultant change in the angle between the model and the tip of paintbrush, I'm finding painting faces a lot easy and, as a consequence, faster.

I'm not pain free yet but I'm a lot better and I hope things will continue to improve over the next month. Fingers crossed.

Venta Silurum said...

much better news Martin!

Graham W said...

I had a similar issue in 2012 and the remedy was cortisone’ vibrated’ into the skin through small attachments. Sounds odd but it worked though did take several weeks.
The problem came back in 2015 and rather than go through the long treatment, I went to my local Chinese herbalist. He gave me two sets of tablets and the pain was gone in a couple of days.
Unfortunately I did not take note of the tablets 😞

Vexillia said...

Glad to hear you're all clear. I've had only one steroid injection but it wasn't Cortisone. I suspect treatments have changed. My physio warned me to be careful as it may reoccur.

That's why I'm still doing the exercises. I will be probably doing them long term which I don't mind as they increase my range of movement. I will probably drop the frequency to once a day after another month or so.

Salute The Flag

If you'd like to support this blog why not leave a comment, or buy me a beer!

Salute The Flag