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.

1 comment :

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.

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