I don’t know many hobby painters who haven’t had some back pain after a long painting session. We all know what it’s like; you’ve been sat at your desk for hours, hunched over to get close enough to edge highlight those tiny details on your Aeldari Guardian’s armour or add the finishing touch to the model of the month. You finish last detail, stand up and realise you’re stuck in the shape of a chair and your lower back is agony. While we’re by no means saying we have a solution that’s going to get rid of back pain forever, we sat down with a qualified physio (who happens to love Warhammer as much as we do) to ask them for their best advice on how to manage back pain whilst still getting through your pile of shame. Here are their top tips.
Optimise Your Workstation
The first step to maximising your comfort and reducing back pain is optimising the space you use for painting. While a standing or adjustable desk might not be an option for everyone I’d highly recommend one if you can manage it. Alternatively, look at adjustable desk stands that will help you stop hunching quite so much. Similarly a ergonomic desk chair that offers you good support will also help make you as comfortable as possible – if you want to take it to another level a posture seat or an exercise ball could work for you, but you’ll probably struggle doing an extended paint session on one.
Make sure your desk is well lit to stop yourself needing to strain to see what your painting (and so your mini’s look great in photos), and use tools like painting handles and even gel wrist/elbow pads to help you with positioning your models and yourself whilst you’re painting.
Ultimately there’s no specific way to set up your desk, and obviously everyone’s budget would be different when considering their set up. It’s all about trying to work out if there’s a specific part of your painting posture, like hunching over a low desk, that’s causing you the most discomfort and then finding a solution for it that fits your budget.
“Your best posture is your next posture”
This quote gets thrown about quite often when physios and people in similar roles discussing movement’s role in managing and preventing back pain. It sounds a bit philosophical and mysterious, but in reality it just means you need to move more. I think we’re all guilty of knowing this without actually implementing it and I get it – when we’re really enjoying a project and feel like we’re making progress breaking that groove is really tough. It’s easy to get so into what you’re working on, then look at the clock and realise you’ve sat dead still painting for four hours and have missed a meal without even realising how hungry you are. But it’s such an easy way to help manage your comfort, especially when it comes to a task that involves being static for long periods.
My best piece of advice for this, and to be honest it goes for anyone working a desk job too, is to set a timer on your phone to go off every 30-40 minutes (or find a friend willing to give regular posture check reminders). When it goes off get out of your chair for five minutes, get yourself a fresh cup of water (to wash brushes or drink), do a few stretches and then get back to work.
Let’s get into the tools you can use to manage your painting back pain. Stretching is a really useful one, that I’d encourage anyone to use regularly (i.e. when you’re taking those regular breaks we just talked about). Stretching alone isn’t going to cure anything – it’s good for mobilising joints and muscles, relieving tightness and helping you to relax, but that doesn’t solve the issue of pain, it relieves the symptoms. The following stretches are examples I recommend to patient’s for a variety of types of back pain and are a good selection to choose from to give your whole back a stretch.
The next tool in the box, an a fantastic one for avoiding painting back pain, is strengthening exercises. While it’s not a case of lifting a few weights and curing any pain the more adaptable you are to loads and progressive challenges to your back muscles the better prepared you should be to deal with positions and activities that put your back under stress. If you go to the gym a few simple movements working your back muscles can easily be incorporated into a routine. If you don’t go to the gym home exercise versions of useful exercises are easy to do and don’t require much equipment at all. These would be my top three suggestions, but as with all exercises there’s a lot of variations and adaptability if you’re struggling – if in doubt consult directly with a professional.
In essence my advice for anyone who spends long hours sat at a desk (be that for work or for play) can be broken down into four principles: Optimise, Move, Stretch and Strengthen. I know it’s never easy altering stepping away from a project, but ultimately you only have one spine (for now – looking at you Chaos Spawn and Ad Mech aficionados) so make sure you’re taking care of it.
It goes without saying, all this is just general advice and not specific to an individual. Back pain and chronic pain can be hugely complex and if you’re unsure how to do any of my suggested exercises or are really struggling with back pain go and see your doctor or a physio for a proper assessment and treatment plan.
Did you enjoy this article? You could always tip the author with a coffee (or something stronger). If you fancy getting yourself some minis to paint (hopefully with regular stretching breaks), then check out Element Games. They have great deals on paint supplies and a wide range of Warhammer and other minis. Finally, make sure you’re following us on Instagram to stay up to date and get involved in our community!