Hand and Wrist Pain Prevention for Polymer Clay and Jewelry Artists

Polymer Clay Food Processor

Bead Making Tips for Those Who Suffer From Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Arthritis and Other Hand Pain Issues:

As a Fimo crafter or jewelry artist, your hands are one of your most important assets. So take care of them! There are definitely things you can do to help protect your hands and wrists from injury, irritation and discomfort.

I am speaking from experience here about wrist pain. A few years ago I was teaching tile mosaic courses and was using tile nippers to cut ‘mountains’ of ceramic and glass tile. After doing this for a year or so, my hands would tingle and go completely numb in just a few minutes of ‘nipping’.

The symptoms got so bad I couldn’t sleep at night with the pain. Turns out I had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and needed surgery in both wrists. The problem was, up here in Canada (and probably everywhere else), the waiting list was so long that it was a whole year before I could get one hand done and 6 months after that to do the other. I wore wrist braces 24 hrs a day for almost two years, until I was through it.

The surgery went extremely well and I don’t have any tingling or numbness from carpal tunnel any more. Recently however, I’ve developed lumps on my wrists and have been feeling pain in my hands and elbows after subjecting them to strenuous activity. Since my dad and my younger sister both have rheumatoid arthritis, I suspect these new symptoms are telling me that and I need to go in to the doctors office and get checked out.

The reason I brought up this topic today is because several of you indicated that Arthritis has created challenges for you when it comes to bead making. From my carpel tunnel experience, I can understand what you are going through. So here are some things you can do to relieve the pain and to even help prevent it from happening in the first place.

1) Talk with your doctor: Some injuries and conditions are made better with use and some get worse. So finding out which one applies to your situation is very important. You do not want to cause further damage to your body.

2) Take breaks: If you are working on a particular polymer clay project that has repetitive movements, such as cranking the pasta machine, or sanding beads, make sure to stop every 10 minutes or so to move your hands and wrists in a different way. You can try making your hands into a fist, opening them wide, and rotating in circles. A resource to check out with some exercises you can do for preventing and healing** Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and repetitive stress injuries is: http://www.mydailyyoga.com/yoga/rsi.html

3) Avoid doing squeeze motions: When my hands and wrists are in pain, nothing makes them sore quicker than the squeezing motion. Kneading clay, cutting thick wire with pliers and cutting with scissors are all squeezing motions. Limit the length of time you do any one of these activities. Switch to a different type of movement before your hands start to go numb or tingle, which is usually a sign you’ve pushed them too far.

4) Use tools that will do the hard work for you: Use your pasta machine to mix colors instead of your hands. If manually cranking a pasta machine creates strain on your wrists and elbows, there are models that come fitted with electric motors. A food processor can be an enormous help for conditioning clay too. It does a nice job of chopping up stiff clay, and in the process, warms/softens the clay for easier hand mixing. For more info, read this article: A Super Handy Polymer Clay Tool

5) Sooth sore joints with warmth: A hot steamy towel or a heated cloth rice bag can do wonders for sore wrists and hands. Fill a cloth bag with rice, barley, dried peas etc. and place in the microwave to heat up. The moist heat relaxes the muscles and joints, and makes them feel a whole lot better!

Having aches and pains does not mean you you have to give up on your love of crafting and art.

My grandmother had such severe rheumatoid arthritis that her fingers looked like the twisted claws of an Eagle. Yet she still continued to do needlepoint until she passed away. She was such an inspiration to others with arthritis that many of her needlepoint artworks were auctioned, photographed and made into cards for the Arthritis Society.

She taught me that crafting can keep your mind sharp and your fingers nimble even through a debilitating disease. She also said that strength, determination and the creation of beautiful things, made her life worth living! This is how choose to live my life as well.

** For more information on joint pain, try searching Google for “Arthritis”, “Carpal Tunnel” and “Joint Pain”. But be sure to consult a qualified Doctor before doing the first thing you read. Prevention and early diagnosis is key to a healthy life. Take care of your body… you only have one!

Cindy Lietz SignaturePolymer Clay Tutor

  1. Cindy Lietz, 30 October, 2008

    Another task that is hard on the joints is carrying heavy grocery bags because they tend to pull and separate the joint. Instead of holding the bag in your hand and letting it pull straight down on your wrist, hang the bag higher up on your arm with a bent elbow. This seems to help my hands quite a bit! (Someone else bringing in the groceries is even better if you can arrange it! ;-)

  2. Cindy Erickson, 31 October, 2008

    Thanks for all of the info, Cindy. I am especially happy to have the link to “mydailyyoga.com” I had not run into that site yet. It looks like there are lots of other good exercises there for other problems like neck pain, which I often get as well…probably due to stress.

    I have carpel tunnel syndrome, and I deal with tingling hands. I sometimes have to wear a brace for days at a time if do too much, and am not real careful. I have to watch how I sleep at night so that I don’t wake up with painful hands. I have taught myself how to not ever bend my wrists into weird positions while I sleep.

    Thanks again for all of the good tips :)

    Hugs to you, Cindy Erickson

  3. Cindy Lietz, 31 October, 2008

    You’re welcome Cindy E. Glad to help, but sorry to hear you have carpal tunnel. :-(

  4. Polyanya, 22 September, 2009

    Just thought I’d bring this one up – I’ve been going through past blogs (trying to find something!) and I came across this one. I did’nt know you’d had such a bad wrist problem Cindy! I’d never have guessed.

    Myself I have a torn cartilidge on my right wrist, which today is v. painful and I’m having to wear my wrist support. This I’m sure is due to the hours I spent on Sunday stripping out copper wire from lighting cables – grrrr!

  5. Cindy Lietz, 02 October, 2009

    Sorry Polyanya, I swore I already replied to this a long time ago but I came by here today to see my comment was gone.

    Sorry to hear about your wrist. Hope it is better now. Maybe you should look for bare copper wire online so you don’t hurt yourself.

    I’ve had a fair amount of wrist and joint pain over the years. Right now the wrists are pretty good. (Had surgery on both hands with great improvement.) Hip and shoulder is what hurts these days.

    I find working with the clay can be therapeutic especially if you take care not to over do it. Keeps the joints mobile and the brain happy!

Copyright © Polymer Clay Tutor Bead and Jewelry Making Tutorials