If you are an artist, you understand how very important your hand, arm and wrist are.

I have heard of concert pianists who have “hand insurance”.  Sounds a little weird until you stop and think about it — if they broke their arm or hurt their hand, they’d be out of business, right?  It’s like professional athlete’s who are injured, they can be out of the game for some time.

As an artist, I imagine your hands are a key part of your work.  You use them to draw, paint, sculpt. Blog, type, communicate. Your hand is like gold so you need to treat it with the love and respect it deserves.

Over the years, I’ve had pain.  Sometimes it’s in my hand, other times it’s in the wrist.  Ever have elbow pain?  That’s probably related.  Shoulder? Yup!  You will compensate how you sit, hold your body, move your muscles when discomfort starts and the pain can go all the way up your arm.  Not fun!

Years ago, I took cake decorating classes and was making beautiful cakes not only for my family, but also starting a business doing birthday, anniversary and even a few wedding cakes.  (Talk about stressful!  Make the most important cake of bridezilla’s life, put it in your car and drive it around… eek!)  But I soon learned that cake decorating wasn’t going to be a long-term job for me, my hand and wrist were not happy!  It was more important to be able to write and draw so I gave up on that hobby.

My icing-squeezing days were when I started looking into ways to keep my hands and wrists in tip-top working order.  Here are 8 strategies I have learned and tried along the way — they have worked for me, alone and in combination, maybe they will work for you!

1. Shift into “neutral”. Pay attention to the way you position your hand when you are at the computer, working, watching tv, even sleeping.  If you can keep your wrist in ‘neutral’– so your hand is neither angled up or down at the wrist — you will have less pain.  Constant strain on the tendons in your wrist hurts.  They make gel-type pads to keep your wrist in place for the computer — put one on the arm of a chair when you watch tv so you don’t have to think about hand placement.  Or if you have kids with Beanie-Babies — they work great as well!  (And look cute!)

2. Invest in a “Wacom” tablet and learn to use the pen. Using a mouse or a keypad on your computer creates a lot of strain on your wrist because of the repetitive motion and constant positioning of your hand.  Wacom makes great tablets that you hold like a pen — once you get used to it they can be easier and more precise to use than a mouse, and they are easier on your hand.  Click here to see the options

3. Use Hot / Cold to your advantage. Last year I received a foot massage as a holiday gift.  It was wonderful but I couldn’t help but ask her how she had such strong wrists — talk about a job that is hard on your hands — that would be any kind of massage.  So she told me how they have a bin of ice water in the back and in between clients she dunks her arms in the ice water, then under hot running water, and back in the ice water.  The cold reduces swelling and makes the blood rush from the area (can you blame it? brr!).  Go to hot water and they blood is happy — so fresh, oxygenated blood comes to the area and repairs any issues.  Cold — reduce swelling.  She said you can do it either way – COLD/HOT/COLD or HOT/COLD/HOT.  I’ve tried it, it helps!

4. Strengthen your wrist. My trainer at the gym has me doing all sorts of things to strengthen my wrists– I think she gets upset when I tell her push-ups hurt!  (But they do!)  Her favorite is to put a 5 lb. round weight on a rope and have me twist the rope to raise and lower the weight.  It gets your wrist moving in many different ways and strengthens the muscles.  “Wrists of Steel” — here I come!

5.  Rub in a little Arnica. Arnica is a homeopathic lotion that I learned about from my acupuncturist.  It is great for muscle aches, bruises and you guessed it… pain.  It doesn’t hurt or smell but seems to help.

6.  Magnets may help keep the energy flowing. There is one caveat to this advice:  it will either work or it won’t.  I have a friend whose body gets very out of whack with magnets so if you try it and things get worse — immediately remove the magnets!  Personally, I have a wrist band with magnets in it that I wear to bed if my wrist has been overworked.  It keeps my wrist more stable and helps keep things flowing.  (My mom thinks I’m a little kookie when I talk about energy flowing in my wrist but hey, I’m into it!)

7.  Get a wrist support band. Anyone who does the same thing over and over with their hand, is at risk for carpal tunnel.  Not fun!  So most stores will have wrist bands that hold your hand and wrist in a neutral position, to help keep you from having surgery.  I’ve seen people after carpal tunnel surgery — I say try the band!

8.  Skip bowling. Seriously.  I rarely bowl anymore because to me, it isn’t worth the risk of injury or day of pain.  Think about it, you are dangling a 10, 15, 20 lb ball from 3 fingers and throwing it — using your wrist a lot.  Some call me crazy and over cautious but I think it’s smart.  Plus, I wasn’t that good anyway!

That is my list of 8 things to try the next time you are singing the “Owie My Wrist Hurts” blues.  Here’s to much success and a pain free future!

~ Tara Reed