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Avoiding repetitive motion injuries

Take the pain out of painting—literally

13 October, 2021

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Get the job done. Do what it takes. Stop whining! There’s often a “man up” culture in the trades, but muscle and joint injuries can make you a “man down.” When you’re a business owner, it’s important to encourage and train your crew to stay healthy so they can continue to be productive and have a good quality of life beyond the brush and the bucket.

Katie Gaines, a muralist, painting contractor and registered yoga instructor, works with painters to help them avoid these injuries. She’s an instructor at The Paint Hive (a website that offers online classes for decorative painters), where she teaches a course called Yoga Stretches for Artists and Painters. Even so, the stress of a deadline can make her forget her own coursework. “I try to take preventive measures with my daily yoga practice, but there have been times when I’m on deadline and painting long hours to finish a project, so I ignore warning signs and just push through the pain,” she said. 

Repetitive Motion Injury
Be cognizant of your reaching and other movements during painting, and take breaks to resist muscles.

A repetitive motion injury (RMI) can make you wince even at the simplest activities. “I’ve had to deal with tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, and a variety of neck, shoulder and lower back issues,” said Gaines. All this can take your painters off the clock—and it hurts. 

The pain from painting can cut into other activities as well. “Recently, after a two-week mural project where I stood on the metal rungs of a ladder for eight hour- plus days, I noticed pain in the arches and heels of my feet, which I feel led to the onset of plantar fasciitis and has affected my running,” said Gaines. “I used to be able to run half marathons regularly with no foot pain.” 

Paint now, pay later 

Yoga for Painters
Like many painters, Katie Gaines' career depends on staying in shape.

Painting is rife with repetitive motions— sanding, brushing, rolling, back … and … forth. Gaines’ classes emphasize warming up before work as well as keeping mindful of your body as the day progresses. “The goal of incorporating these yoga stretches as a warmup before you start working, as well as infusing them into breaks throughout the day, is to keep from getting injured in the first place so you don’t have to deal with RMI. “Preventive measures like stretching, warming up, staying hydrated and eating nutritious meals will help keep you energized, focused and ready to take on any project,” she said. “If you do the same thing for long hours without taking breaks or getting a change of scenery, you’re more likely to lose focus, become fatigued and increase the chance for mistakes, accidents and injury.” 

See if you can vary your tasks or switch off with someone else—or if you’re the crew manager, swap the jobs so that everyone isn’t doing the same thing all day long. By taking a 10- minute break every hour to breathe and stretch, Gaines feels more productive the other 50. And if your crew is working up high, make sure they stay grounded. “If I’m up on a high ladder or scaffolding, I notice that I tend to hold my breath and tense up, so it’s important to remind myself to take breaks, breathe and relax my muscles so that I don’t put myself at risk for injury,” she said. You’ll also be more apt to relax if you are on equipment that is sturdy, high quality and securely well positioned. 

Tools matter as well. Get a brush or a scraper that is comfortable. “I’ve noticed that if the brush handle is too large or too small, it affects my grip and can cause fatigue,” said Gaines. 
Because painting shouldn’t be a pain. APC 

Ergonomic Rules for Painters
Ergonomic guidelines for painters.


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