One of the biggest issues with potters, when they’re throwing clay, isn’t the actual technique of it. No, it’s back pain. One of the biggest injuries that you can get as a potter isn’t burning yourself with the kiln. It isn’t inhaling the particles. Nope, it’s back pain. Back pain happens because lots of times, potters don’t realize the importance of their posture and ergonomics. However, you’re about to find out a little bit more about why it’s important to have killer potter posture, and how it can prevent various issues from happening, including back pain.
Why talk about this?
So why should you talk about this? well, let’s discuss what pottery making entails:
- Lifting heavy pieces of clay
- Mixing a lot of clay at one time
- Loading the kilns and shelves
- Throwing and making shapes with the pottery
All of these involve heavy lifting and using some sort of effort to make sure that you get everything from one place to another. Now, those bags of clay can be heavy, and it adds up. The pottery as well can be heavy too, which adds up. It definitely isn’t worth playing around with, and if you tend to have back problems already, it definitely isn’t something to play around with.
You should definitely watch out for this, and if you tend to already have back problems, take the precautions necessary in order to fix this.
Back problems that can happen
One of the biggest conditions that can happen is sciatica. This is actually a tingling sensation that goes from the sciatic nerve all the way down your back to the back of your legs.
Now, it isn’t a diagnosis, but it actually is a sign that there is something worse happening there, such as a herniated disc, stenosis of the spine, or degenerative disc disease.
If you start to feel pain in one side of the leg or buttock, and when the pain gets worse while sitting, or there is a tingling sensation in the leg, you might want to get this checked out. This is definitely a sign of something much more serious.
It can be irritating at least to awful at worst, and you’ll definitely want to watch out for this, especially if you’re a potter.
If you’re doing any sort of pottery, one of the ways that this can get triggered is through the art of throwing. Throwing triggers this because of the placement of where your hands and such are, and it’s a common issue that many people struggle with. If you start to feel like you’re having issues with this, it’s best that you take the following steps in the next section to help with this.
If you do have sciatica already, it’s even more important to take into consideration the ergonomics that you need to work towards. If you’re struggling and aren’t able to do pottery, there are a few things that you can implement as well to help you ensure that your body is taken care of, and so that you don’t trigger the flare-up.
Standing to Throw
One of the biggest things that you can do for your back when you’re working with pottery is actually to stand to throw instead of just sitting down. You can also use a backrest, and it definitely does a lot of good for you as well.
You can create your own backrest that goes to the mid-part of your back, and this does the following:
- Gives you more leverage
- Less leaning
- Less force on the elbows and thighs
If you don’t have the ability to use a backrest, you can always do standing. Standing is yet another option that you should consider. While you might be someone who’s not too keen on being on your feet all day, this is yet another option, especially when you’re working with throwing. This is because of the following:
- Your torso is kept straight
- You’re working in front of the sternum
- You’re not doubled over with your face facing the clay
With this though, you should make sure that your wheel is adjusted as needed. Typically, if you’re sitting the wheel is a bit lower, but if you’re going to stand, you should put it a bit higher, around the height of the belly button or a bit higher. If you’re too low, you’re going to be hunched over once again. It’s important to look into this if you want to ensure that you’re able to get the most out of this.
If you’re using a wheel that’s not fitting for standing throwing, you might want to check into this as well. A big part of that is really the amount of legroom you have too since it can change the speed of the throw and make it a bit more comfortable. If you’re going to use a wheel, do keep in mind that you have enough legroom.
Before you pick one out, try testing them before you buy them. See how it feels on your feet before you continue on, and from there, work with the speeds and change them as needed. You should make sure that you do get a pottery wheel based on how you throw.
There are some variants that you should keep in mind if you’re getting a wheel, and they are as follows:
- Do you change your foot pedal speeds during the throws? If so, you should make sure that you have both hands on the pot itself and make sure that you have the foot pedal nearby
- If you’re not changing your speed a lot, you can put it off to the side
- You can put the pedal next to the head of the wheel and even change it by hand
If you douse a foot pedal, there are a couple of things to remember. If you’re using it all the time, without any sort of backrest, you’ll create a torque in your hips, which causes pain to the sciatic nerves, and your hips as well. You should, if you’re keeping the pedal on the floor, make sure that you do change sides frequently. It does take a lot more coordination with the leg that isn’t dominant in this, but it will help make sure that your hips are aligned. If you’re not the type that doesn’t do this sort of thing, or just can’t, you should get something about the same height as the foot pedal and put it underneath your foot so that everything is aligned. You should make sure that you take the time to figure out for yourself.
Now, there isn’t one answer to all of this. here are just a few things that you should keep in mind:
- Consider a backrest
- Consider a perched position
- Consider altering your feet
- Consider the pedal placement
In essence, you need to think about what sorts of bodily issues you have, and to what degree your back pain is, and from there, you’ll be able to control just what you’re going to do, and the type of throwing that will work best for you.
The problem with studios and Sitting
One hurdle you might have to go over when you’re working in the studio is the fact that most places don’t even talk about the ergonomics of throwing pottery, so everyone that does go to these tends to learn by sitting and throwing. It’s not really talked about, but, if you’re at a studio and you know that you have back pain, you can take the necessary actions for this:
- Tell your teacher about it and ask for adjustments
- Ask to stand
- Work with trying to elevate the wheel
- Work to maybe switch the pedals every so often
Wrist health and Pottery
Another issue that is a huge part of pottery issues is wrist pain. When it comes to personal injuries, this is the second-worst issue to come out. Wrist surgery can happen to those that don’t have their wrists in the correct position. It can actually be a huge thing, but lots of times, it’s not taught to others.
One of the biggest things is to make sure the following happens:
- Don’t extend the wrists back
- Don’t put them in weird positions
If you do this, you will cause unnecessary pressure to be pushed onto this, and it will eventually cause major issues.
This, combined with sitting when you throw is a combination of a disaster. You should also look at where your elbows are. If they’re tucked into their hips, that will bend the wrists back from the center of your arm area, and this leads to the hyperextension of your wrist, and eventually, a lot of injuries, and possibly surgeries, all because you didn’t keep your wrists at an even level.
This is a huge problem if you’re working with a lot of clay. For the pottery that’s just a basic hobbyist, it might not be so obvious, but over time, it will cause major issues, and if you’re wedging a lot of clay as well, this can be a huge thing.
Another core area that can actually be a site for wrist issues, is wedging, which is a huge part of getting the clay together before you throw. Now, if you do this, there are a couple of ways to prevent injuries, and they are:
- Wedge as you work
- Change what you’re doing
- Work in spurts
This is such a huge issue that it can actually be a major situation where you’ll feel the pain even after surgery. It’s the worst activity, but it’s the most necessary activity.
When you’re working with this, repetition isn’t actually that good for you. You know what you do instead? You work to actually change what you’re doing a lot, and in turn, you become something called “inefficient on purpose.”
Efficiency is usually something that’s praised, but if you’re throwing and it’s causing so many wrist issues that you’re hurting yourself, lay off and take your time.
Now, let’s say that you are a serious potter, and you have an order of thirty bowls. That’s a lot, and if you’re working on wedging thirty of those at once, and then throwing thirty of those at once, you’re going to set yourself up for a ton of injuries.
What you do instead, is you work in spurts and sections. Take a chunk, wedge them, and then throw them, and then work to get the next section done. Yes, this might not seem as “efficient” but if you’re at risk for some major injuries, or if you’re a serious potter, sometimes it’s better to just sacrifice your ability to get a lot done fast for the sake of your own health.
If you’re slip trailing, you don’t do a bunch of them in a row. That’s because you’ll strain your thumb, pushing it all the way back.
If you do repetitive actions, you can end up getting the following injuries to your wrists:
- Carpal tunnel
- Tennis elbows
Neither of these is fun, but you can prevent this by breaking up all of the actions.
You’re not necessarily changing up everything, but instead changing the pacing that you want, and the flow that you put there. It’s super important to work in an efficient manner, since this art is taxing on the body, and it can make a world of a difference.
Now, this is another area lots of people don’t actually think about. Stretching is super important, whether you’re going to be lifting a barbell, or you’re lifting some clay. Pottery is kind of a form of strength training in a sense, and you need to make sure that you don’t pull something.
Now, if you’re looking to take care of yourself in the studio outside of the studio, there are a few areas that you can tackle before you go in that can really help your spine:
- Your back
- Your abdominals
- Your arms
- Your legs
All of these areas will help with your spine, and you won’t need to use your back to lift these objects. Exercise is good for the body because it makes you healthy, but when it comes to pottery, it gives you a lot of benefits as well.
Making the Place Ergonomic
- If it hurts, you need to look at what activity is causing the pain
- Don’t be hunched over, since this causes neck problems
- Don’t decorate in the lap, since this will cause you to be hunched over for a while
- Watch for the heights of what you’re making, and do make sure that you adjust them accordingly
- Get a lazy Susan to help to add to the height
- Work to make sure that you’re comfortably upright
- You can work to make the place as self-sufficient as possible
- Make sure that all the glazes are wheeled so that you’re not lifting everything
You should work to ensure that you do have the best type of studio that you can, and make sure that you take some necessary precautions as needed.
What about Glazing
And finally, there is glazing. Glazing is a huge part of problems with the body because it tends to cause you to hunch your back when you pour glaze.
If you’re having trouble with your body, and it might be attributed to glazing, or you want to prevent injuries and other health problems, here are a couple of things that you can do:
- Put the glazes on wheels
- Have a permanent glazing space
- Put the glaze buckets on benches at the height that works for you so that it’s ergonomic
- Make sure that you don’t have to lift or bend over all the time when you’re glazing
Now, if you do this, you will need to have a lot more space put in because it takes up a lot. If you do have a little bit of extra room though, and you’re going to become serious with pottery, you’ll definitely have a much better time.
Consider an Assistant
If you’re thinking you can’t do this on your own, it never hurts to have an assistant. This is especially important if you’re older, are subject to injuries in the back area, and you tend to need someone.
Ideally, if you need an assistant, they should be able to do the following:
- Lift what you need
- Help you with any work that needs to be done
- Are in relatively decent shape so that they can do some of the more stressful activities
Having a second person might seem like a good best bet if you’re having a lot of issues with getting the work done. if you’re a serious potter and you need to fulfill orders, this will, in turn, provide the efficiency that you need in order to be successful.
Now that you know of a few areas that are common to be major injury areas, here are a few tips that you can keep in mind to help you ensure that you get the most out of your ability to work:
- Check the hips and make sure that they’re facing forward and are even, meaning that you don’t have one higher than the other side. If you’re having issues with this, put something under, or just alternate the pedal from one foot to the next
- Hire someone to throw if you’re having a lot of trouble
- If you want to help with back issues, make sure that you’re fully standing, and not leaning against the wall
- Use a mirror to look at your body and posture to see what you need to change
- It is hard to change up these activities, but if you’re feeling pain, you need to force yourself to do this, especially in the wrists and thumbs. You will need to re-train yourself as needed
- Be purposefully inefficient. Really, just do that if you’re having issues because it’s better to take longer than to sit on a project and repeat it to the point where you’re hurting yourself
- If you’re wedging and it’s hurting your wrists, and with throwing, you should get softer clay bodies. The good rule of thumb is if your body is fighting the clay, it’ll eventually cause a lot of issues with you later on
- Finally, stop thinking about changing, and work to actually change it if it’s causing you issues. Actually get through and change the thing if you so need it. if you’re groaning during anything really, you’ve got to change it. That’s the simplicity of it all, and that’s what you need to keep in mind. If you’re having various issues with your body, you need to take the time that’s needed to ensure that you’re doing what works for you.
- Also, try not to hold things as much as you can. Putting things in your hands and holding them is something that causes a lot of strains on the body, especially on the neck, thumbs, and wrists, so don’t do that excessively
With all of these tips, you’ll be able to take the time and better your ability to work in a studio, and from there, you’ll be able to create all of the different pottery that you want, without running the risk of injuring the body.