For the last seven weeks I have had my first experience…wait, no …my first, excruciating, on a scale from 1-10 this is a 9.5, for a women who has gone through child birth which is a 10, can’t think of anything else but the pain, can’t sit down, can’t stand up for long, pain from the lower back all the way down to my foot, sciatic pain. I am back in the game, but I was stubborn and put off seeing a doctor. I had a painting to finish and a trip to New York scheduled. I didn’t have time to pay attention to this growing problem, so I googled it. A bit of stretching and allot of praying and my four days in New York were pain free! Thank you Lord… but, God had a few more lessons for me to learn. My last day in New York, the day I woke up to get on a plane and head back to the great state of Texas, my sciatica was back in full force… 7.5 and on the way to 10. I held it all together until I got home. I made it all the way to the den before falling to the floor in agony. It was time for the doctor.
Four prescriptions later and a few days of not quite remembering what was happening… that’s the point where I decided to quit taking one of the prescriptions… I was on the mend. The doctor said the x-ray showed I had the “spine of a thirty-year-old”. There was a time in my life when that would have been an insult, but to quote a favorite movie, “That is not this day!” The MRI wasn’t very helpful, I was told that maybe I had a slight herniation. What I think is more likely is that I aggravated my piriformis muscle. Hey, google it. It makes perfect sense. In physical therapy I am learning stretches to address herniated disks as well as stretching the piriformis.
What brought all this on? Incorrect posture at my easel. I knew I was turning slightly to the left too often, and that was making me very tired and stiff. It was the result of a new palette I had been using for six months. I kept placing my paints too far to the left on the surface, so when I held it I was twisting to the left too much. I started laying it in front of me on my taboret which was a little too small to hold the darn thing and my brushes, so I was still twisting slightly to the left. The last straw was a five hour, non-stop stretch to finish that last painting. Yep, I lost track of time. The next day I woke up with a pain I had never experienced before, sciatica.
Here is what I have learned.
- Set up your work space to have your most used items right in front of you…even if it means buying a new table to hold those brushes and that palette.
- Balance your weight evenly on both legs…nope that’s too hard to remember when you switch into painting mode. Here’s what my PT recommended: Put a short step or block in front of you, and rest one foot on it. This places all your weight on the foot on the floor. Later switch feet.
- Sit while you work. I can’t do this, and I’m reluctant to include it here, but both the doctor and PT suggested it. It might be good for giving your back a break, but I don’t think it’s good for your artwork.
- Set a timer to remind you to take breaks and stretch. Really hard when you’re in the middle of something, but I’m going to start doing this.
- Exercise. I have really neglected this in the last ten years, but artists need to be in shape just as much as athletes. My PT has me doing stretches that target spine health, piriformis flexibility, and core strengthening. In addition, my spine doctor told me to walk, walk, walk.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water during the day.
- Lastly, I have learned how wonderful my students are. They have shared their individual remedies and suggestions, and I am so fortunate to have such caring people in my life.
So, do artists have to be athletes to continue to do what we love? Well, I’ve had a wake up call. My answer is, “Be both!” You won’t see me in a marathon, but I’ll be stretching and strengthening and walking to be fit to paint for many more decades. Here’s to your artistic and physical health.
(Image copied from: http://sciaticnervepain.ca/tag/sciatic-nerve-stretch/ . This is not an endorsement of this website or these exercises. See your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.)