Dealing With Carpal Tunnel as an Artist
Carpal Tunnel: Every Artist's Fear
One of the fears every artist has is that something will happen to their hands. Over the years you may begin to feel your wrists hurting as a result of your creative efforts. This is the worst possible outcome, as whenever you try to perform your craft—whether it's playing the violin, guitar, painting, drawing, writing, etc.—the pain in your wrists may prevent you from doing what you love.
For me, there were even some nights where I couldn't sleep because my wrists were in so much pain. In this article, I will share what I've found to be helpful for my carpal tunnel. And I'm happy to say that my wrists have improved over the last couple of years.
Essentially, you're going to baby your wrists as much as possible. Then you're going to stretch and strengthen them over time so you don't have to be so careful with them in the future.
I have no medical training, nor have I taken any classes on this issue. This article is a compilation of the guidelines I've personally followed to treat my carpal tunnel, and I believe that following these guidelines has helped my wrists over the years. This advice is not to be taken in place of a medical diagnosis or treatment.
Change How You Work on the Computer
Make sure your wrists are flat on your desk or table whenever you are typing or are using the mouse. Avoid typing on a laptop as I've found that the act of having to "hover" over the keys, without anything supporting your wrist to be near murder the next day, especially if I'm on the computer for an extended time.
If you must use a laptop, invest in some sort of a foam insert or wrist brace that you can put in front of the keyboard so your wrists have some form of support.
When I say flat on the desk, I mean that your forearms should be touching the desk as well. You may have to push your mouse or keyboard foreword on your desk, but trust me, once you get used to laying your forearms down, it really helps keep your wrist from hurting.
Your Day Job / Part-time Job
If you are currently working a temporary job in retail or similar jobs, be sure to wear a wrist brace if you are cashiering and using your wrist constantly in the same motion, over and over.
As much as I hated wearing it, my wrists starting getting bad again when I tried to not wear one. In the end, it was worth the sacrifice of having to wear a brace knowing that I would be able to go home and create without my wrists flaring up.
How often do you stretch out your wrist?
Stretch Your Wrist Regularly
When I first began making these changes, my wrists hurt all the time. I had to wear a brace constantly and even then they still hurt. I remember the first couple weeks of stretching, were very painful because my muscles were so tense and worn out. After a couple weeks, I saw a dramatic improvement in my movement and flexibility in my right wrist. My right wrist is my dominant wrist, so it is always the one that is hurting.
How to Stretch Out Your Wrist
Take which ever wrist that is hurting, for me it's my right, and extend your hand out. Take your other hand and hold onto your hand. What you want to do is take your non dominant hand and stretch your wrist to the left. You want to pull your other hand until you feel a bit of a stretch on the right side of your wrist. Hold this for around 10 seconds. Now flip over your arm, and stretch your wrist to the left again. This will stretch out the other side of your wrist. Again, hold for another 10 seconds or so.
Straighten out your wrist and pull your hand down to stretch out your forearm muscles. Hold for 10 seconds. Flip over your arm and again, pull your hand down until you feel a light stretch. Hold for 10 seconds and release.
Depending on how much your wrist is hurting, you will feel that it's sore and it will hurt the first couple of times. Chances are that one of these ways to stretch will be more painful than the others. Don't over stretch your wrist when you start out stretching your wrist. You want to gradually build up to being able to stretch a little farther each time.
I stretch out my wrist each time my wrists starts hurting. After stretching, the pain usually will will subside and dull down. It's a daily practice that really helps out my wrists, and I've found that as I continued to do this, I had to stretch my wrists out less and less because they've been feeling better.
Massaging Your Wrist
After stretching, if my wrist is still a little sore, I like to give it a little massage to help the blood flow better and ease the pain.
The first thing I do is find where it hurts on my wrist. Once I do, I'll use the thumb on my other hand and push down with some force and rub in a circular motion. Occasionally I'll hit a really sore spot, and like working out a knot from someone's back, it'll hurt but as you massage the spot, it'll let up and stop hurting after a while.
After you familiarize yourself and do this regularly you'll probably realize what spots are normally the trouble makers.
Do you find that wearing a wrist brace is helpful when you sleep?
Wear a Wrist Brace When You Sleep
This was one of the hardest things to adjust to, but it is probably one of the most beneficial to my wrist.
When you wake up in the morning, are your wrists bent toward you? I noticed that when I sleep I like to bring my arms in and my wrists are always bent. This causes strain on my wrists and after wearing something that forces me to not bend my wrists all night, the pain in my wrist was drastically reduced.
Now, wearing the actual brace took some time to get used to. Be sure to not have it on too tightly at night otherwise you'll cut off the circulation to your hand and it'll swell up like a balloon (I've done it, and it's not pretty). You want one of the braces that has the metal plate in it, to keep the wrist from being able to bend.
After you've worn it for a while, occasionally I'll take it off and sleep without it, but just make sure that you're sleeping in such a way that your wrist is not bent. It's a little more trouble some, but whatever helps your wrist and allows you to sleep better.
Below is an example of what type of wrist brace I've found to be the most helpful. You want one that will restrict some if the movement of wrist. These kinds will have either a metal plate inside, or hard plastic. I've tried using just the kind that wraps around your wrist without these support plates, but they never seemed to do much for me.
Yoga and Pilates for the Wrist
This is my most recent endeavor to help strengthen my wrist. I used to practice Poi and staff spinning, but recently i've begun to pick up Yoga and Pilates.
Yoga in general is just good for stretching out all of your muscles after sitting for hours in front of a computer. There's a few good Yoga moves that help stretch out the wrist and requires a lot of strength in your wrist to hold poses, as well as Pilates.
I haven't been practicing either for an extended time, so the only thing I can say is that occasionally my wrists will not be able to perform as I would like them. Be sure to not push your wrists too far, too fast. You don't want to push your wrist back a step and injure it.
Some of these may seem like bothersome steps, but after seeing my wrists improve and being able to do more of what I love doing, I now put as much effort I can into strengthen and stretching out my wrists as I can (as well as all my other muscles).
I'm not going to lie and say that this has cured my wrists completely, but all of the steps above have improved my wrists to a state that is manageable and doesn't impede my creativity. There are days when they are worse than others, depending on if I've been on the computer too long or done too much Pilates, but I can pick up the violin, go bowling, or draw without the discomfort of wearing a wrist brace.