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Falling Apart Or Bad Back And Pottery


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#1 MadMudder

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 02:36 PM

As an older potter,I find my body just won't do what it used to do. I have an elliptical trainer which I use as much as possible but making pottery, especially on a wheel still hurts.
I really screwed up my back about a week ago and it is still in extreme pain. This really sucks...
Any suggestions except, "don't throw" which is fine with me because I mostly do hand building but still.
This injury was caused by lifting a box of clay from behind some junk. As soon as I get well again I will clear out the pathways. We are packing up to move and that too makes a big mess.
Suggestions?

MM
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#2 JBaymore

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 04:16 PM

Sorry to hear about the back issue.

It's all too common for potters, who tend to lift a lot of heavy stuff and who often don't think about ergonomics then they are working.

One aspect of preventing back issues is core stregnth. You are never too old to exercise at some level. Good abdominal stregnth tends to protect the back. Take up an activity that involves low impact but high outcome effects like Tai Chi or the Japanese sword arts like Iaido (I'm a practitioner of that one).

Look for the thread here about potters stools for some ideas there.

Have someone who knows physiology watch you when you are working and make suggestions about how you are suing your body. When I teach throwing, I spend a lot of time teaching people how to use their bodies accurately, and efficiently, and with an idea to minimizing stresses.

Be careful atthe moment to not keep re-injuring the problem.

best,

......................john
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Immediate Past President; Potters Council
Professor of Ceramics; New Hampshire Insitute of Art

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#3 clay lover

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 07:33 PM

John, I am interested in what you teach in your throwing class that help with body issues. Would you share? I find I spend too much time bent over sideways to look at the pot as I throw.
Something that helps me, I think is doing an exercise that promotes eveness, like bike riding, or riding horses. If you do either one crookedly, you tend to fall off, or go in circles!
I do get massage regularly, and if I get too uncomfortable, feeloing stuck or jammed, I go to my chiropractor.

#4 jennifire

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 11:48 AM

since I am not only a 62-year-old potter, but also have been a nurse since '67, I , too, have back issues.
when I (re) injured my back last January I could find no relief from my chiroprator & massage tx, I researched online and found
"losethebackpain.com".......it has helped me tons! Worth checking out IMHO.
With the usual disclaimers, ie: I get nothing out of provididng this info.

Be Well,

Jennifer

#5 Potterstu

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 06:58 PM

I too am an older potter (68).

As an apprentice in the early 60's, we often received five to ten tons of dry clay in 100 # bags. >>>there was no OSHA! And no training as to how to lift or carry, so we would turn it into a competition to see who carry the most the quickest. As a result I've had L-4 L-5 issues ever since.

I have a routine every morning of streches. When I'm at the wheel I do a series of "mime" moves imitating throwing in a mirror. In other words, I imitate the throwing of a pot but from the other side. This helps a lot. I also get up and walk for about five minutes at least once an hour. Wearing a back brace has been suggested and I use one sparingly as I'm told that if you rely on one too much, you risk muscular atrophy. (sp?)

Good luck with the move,

Stuart

#6 MadMudder

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 01:23 PM

John, I am interested in what you teach in your throwing class that help with body issues. Would you share? I find I spend too much time bent over sideways to look at the pot as I throw.
Something that helps me, I think is doing an exercise that promotes eveness, like bike riding, or riding horses. If you do either one crookedly, you tend to fall off, or go in circles!
I do get massage regularly, and if I get too uncomfortable, feeloing stuck or jammed, I go to my chiropractor.

Put a mirror behind your wheel. I have a bathroom mirror sitting on the wheel and leaning up against a book case where my bats live.
It will keep you from twisting.
I got the idea from an ad in Ceramic's Monthly. Been doing that for years.
MM
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-Beth Ward, Crone Potter

#7 gordonpots

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 01:34 PM

This seems to be an appropriate place for old (in my case, 63) potters to chime in about a daily concern. Others have offered various exercise routines--my own includes dumbbells and floor exercises aimed at overall muscle tone.
The change I made about 5 years ago that most directly affected my ability to throw without back pain was switching from a sitting to a standing position. Standing (actually leaning against the splash pan, a pole, or a wall) avoids that hunched over position that was causing most of my difficulties. I'm also able to move around while throwing, which really helps relieve fatigue. A good mat, comfortable shoes and frequent breaks also help. Now if I could just figure out a way to work better with my arthritic thumbs!
-David

As an older potter,I find my body just won't do what it used to do. I have an elliptical trainer which I use as much as possible but making pottery, especially on a wheel still hurts.
I really screwed up my back about a week ago and it is still in extreme pain. This really sucks...
Any suggestions except, "don't throw" which is fine with me because I mostly do hand building but still.
This injury was caused by lifting a box of clay from behind some junk. As soon as I get well again I will clear out the pathways. We are packing up to move and that too makes a big mess.
Suggestions?

MM



#8 Christine

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 05:09 AM

I too stand to throw and find it much kinder to my 63-year-old back.
As far as heaving stuff around the studio is concerned, I have most heavy stuff (clay bins, glaze buckets etc) on wheels - or rather on heavy ply platforms with wheels attached, and a low stool to sit on whilst glazing. I hope you make a quick recovery and that the move goes well
Christine

#9 Marcia Selsor

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 05:10 AM

When I lived in Spain and was observing the folk potters there, many worked together throwing side by side with their wheels driven by one motor. ..looking like an invention from the early industrial revolution. They sat up against a stucco wall where decades of potters sat. The walls had worn cavities in them. They sat side-saddle at the wheel...common in Europe.
I watched a friend throw 1000 small bowls in a day. Morteros for mortar and pestle sets. Helpers carried clay to the wheel and carried away full ware boards. I think the sitting position..or standing is extremely important. Some people recommend placing a brick under your foot. Others raise the level of the wheel head.
Varying the position..like walking avery hour, seems best.
As for this old potter, my thumbs and wrists have problems. I had carpal tunnel surgery on both hands in the 1980's. Pre-laser techniques.
Found a small lump inside lower thumb that feels like a tiny ganglia cyst. Had a large one on my wrist in 1979 that blew out when unloading a kiln shelf.
I hope it goes away. Very tender.

#10 JP Design Art Studio

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 02:48 PM

Hi MM,

I have never had a back problem until I started throwing pots! I'm 51 and have done a yoga exercise specifically for the lower back for many many years.
Even this did not keep me from having lower back pain after a long day at the wheel. Now when I feel tightness in my back I take my red playground ball
and place it behind my back while sitting on a bench (or over the couch armrest). Anything that will allow you to do a slight back bend with the ball behind your back.
Relax in that position for about 5 min. It really helps open up the vertebrae and relive the pressure.
If this holistic method is uncomfortable, try a visit to a Dr. who has a "cold laser" or "low level laser" - same thing. The doctor will hold the laser in the painful area
for about 10-15 minutes. The cold laser does not hurt or damage tissue in any way in fact it regenerates tissue! It can help with our wrist and finger pains too.
The results are amazing! If you are in the Pittsburg area, Dr. Joe Goth is who I went to. The laser is a relatively new process and not very expensive.

JP

#11 Seasoned Warrior

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 06:32 PM

I've always been very active but many years ago I hurt my back while spending time writing specifications for an extended length of time. The doctors wanted to operate but I hate the idea of knives penetrating my tender body so for years I lived with the pain. It used to hurt stepping of a curb onto a street. I used to hae to roll out of bed on all fours just to be able to work my way to a standing position. After reconciling that I was going to have to live with the pain a friend recommended I see his acupuncturist. I was skeptical but went because the pain was affecting my lifestyle. After the first treatment I was able to get up out of bed normally and after the third treatment all the pain had gone. It's been over 20 years and the pain has never returned. I still think that acupuncture is a very personal service and I doubt I'd just grab the first acupuncturist in the yellow pages but if you ask around you may find one in your neighborhood. I found that your local friendly Kung Fu studio maybe a good referral as that is the way I've found a couple of other effective acupuncturists. I know, I'm a bit weird but I've lived with it for so long I almost appear normal to me!Posted Image

Best regards,
Charles

#12 Karen B

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 11:55 PM

To MM, I injured my rotator cuff (upper back) doing that same motion as you. Couldn't even unload kiln after. Tried my wonderful chiropractor, an accupuncturist, gentle yoga, ice, warm epson salt baths. None helped, at all. Finally went to a talented physical therapist and he helped me immensely, and best of all, gave me the correct exercises that have kept me unhurt for the past 5 years! Eliptical trainer will keep your cardio system healthy, but you will need more as you age to keep the muscles strong. Also, taking fish oil and glucosemine everyday will help. All the best!Posted Image

#13 JBaymore

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 08:14 AM

John, I am interested in what you teach in your throwing class that help with body issues. Would you share? I find I spend too much time bent over sideways to look at the pot as I throw.
Something that helps me, I think is doing an exercise that promotes eveness, like bike riding, or riding horses. If you do either one crookedly, you tend to fall off, or go in circles!
I do get massage regularly, and if I get too uncomfortable, feeloing stuck or jammed, I go to my chiropractor.


claylover,

I happen to also have taught skiing pt for the past 40 years, and am a recently retired pt Educational Staff member for PSIA (the national certification body in the USA). That gives me some sports biomechanics background. That has let me think about what I see people doing when sitting at a wheel from a biomechanical effectiveness aspect.

There are too many possibilities of "inefficiencies" and mis-allignments that I see people using when throwing to list here. It is not a "one-size-fite-all" situation. I watch, I see, I analyze. But there are some of the typical bigger ones that are easy to talk about.

Most people when confronted with throwing (and particularly when centering) tend to move the neck down and ahead, roll the shoulders forward, pull the shoulders upward along the axis of the neck, and round off the mid to lower back. This is placing really bad loading on the discs in the mid to lower back, creates repetitive tension stresses on the shoulders, and also make the use of the upper arm and shoulder muscles far less effective than it could be. It likely also eventually causes chronic neck pain.

When sitting throwing it is really important to maintain the natural curve in the lower spine to protect the back. If you look at the angular forces on the lower back vertebra from simply sitting, adding anything unnecessary is kinda' dumb. So how do you then tip the body forward toward the wheel to get an effective position? You break mainly at the hips....a place your body was designed to move in this dimension. Having the seat you are sitting on tipping distinctly toward the wheel head assists in making this move easier. Really old kickwheels often had this tilted seat as a standard. (See the "potter's stool" thread here for more on this thought.) Then make a very conscious "check" to make sure that you are also tucking the lower back curve in toward the forward direction, maintaining the natural curve. Good abdominals help this position. Then make sure that the shoulders are pulled down and back a bit. Most of the tip forward should come at the hip.

This simple change will work a world of wonders for the upper and lower back. But it will not repair existing tissue damage. It will just decrease forces exacerbating it.

To be effective, muscles have to be sort of "relaxed" every so often. When they are lengthening and contracting they are at their strongest. When you lift up the shoulders to reach ahead for the clay, you take certain muscle groups and fixedly tense them up, and then keep them there. When they are constricted like that, the blood flow is restricted. This gives them less "energy" to work with, and prevents the removal of lactic acid. So they don't work as well as they could. Plus the ones that are tensed are not available to react to the act of throwing/centering/etc. Add in a nice and all too typical "take a dep breath and hold it" habit when just about to center.... and you cut down the oxygen supply there too.

The "tipping sideways" thing is also an issue. You cannot eliminate it....... but you can minimize it. You tend to tip sideways to see the profile of the pot. There is another position from which you can get a bit of this view, and it will help with the leaning forward stresses on your back too. Simply lean well backward every so often. This moves the eye away from the upper part of the form and gives you a new view of the piece. It also allows the muscles in the back to "move" a bit, clearing lactic acid and promoting blood flow.

The big lean sideways is usually a learned habit. Ingrained habits can be hard to break. You have to do a lot of repetitions of a new movement to change an existing muscle memory pattern. Changing this will take conscious effort.

There is a saying I use in ski teaching that applies to the mechanical skill of throwing too. "If you ain't movin', you can't dance". Throwing on the wheel is a dance with the clay, not a physical strenght contest.

Have a physical trainer watch you throw if your general clay teachers don't have any of this kind of background and persepctive (few do). Maybe find someone who has a professional sports training background and have them watch you throw. Then let them think on what they see and give you feedback.

Gotta' go. Maybe more later.

best,

.................john
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Professor of Ceramics; New Hampshire Insitute of Art

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#14 Deb Evans

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 10:37 PM

I 've been teaching health and safety in my clay classes for years. I have a vision: i walk into studios and see different hgt tables and wheels for diff hght students.
Use physics instead of strength. Leverage and straight lines are powerfull and prevent wriest and back problems. That said - now that I'm in my 50's - I do warm up exercises before I throw, especially shoulder movements. I have my wheel raised high enough so my back stays straight. I have used a stand up treadel wheel ( and loved it) and thinking of raising my wheel so I stand up to throw. One of the easiest wheels I ever used was mounted on short ceiling and then you threw down , it was real easy because gravity was doing all the work.

Another issue is hearing lost because we turn up the radio or ipod to drown out the wheel noise. GET A QUIET WHEEL and turn down the tunes, save your ears.

#15 JBaymore

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 11:02 PM

Leverage and straight lines are powerfull and prevent wriest and back problems.


BINGO! Posted Image
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Professor of Ceramics; New Hampshire Insitute of Art

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#16 Pres

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Posted 15 September 2010 - 06:16 PM

As an older potter,I find my body just won't do what it used to do. I have an elliptical trainer which I use as much as possible but making pottery, especially on a wheel still hurts.
I really screwed up my back about a week ago and it is still in extreme pain. This really sucks...
Any suggestions except, "don't throw" which is fine with me because I mostly do hand building but still.
This injury was caused by lifting a box of clay from behind some junk. As soon as I get well again I will clear out the pathways. We are packing up to move and that too makes a big mess.
Suggestions?

MM


I fractured my back (seatbelt fracture) in the early 70's. When I started throwing in college it bothered me, but wedging helped. I found that the rocking motion and the lifting of the shoulders pushing on the clay helped to realign things. I have always found that in my case the wedging helped when the back was sore. Another thing I did was to hang from the arms and twist the body for about 5 minutes.

Nowadays I am much older and recently diagnosed with diabetes. I now do core work outs on the total gym, 20 pull ups and 60 push ups every other night, side planks 50 to a side for total of 100. Side effect is that the back is no problem, and the throwing is easier than ever before-centering 25-35 lb. The diabetes is also in control without medication.

Simply retired teacher, not dead, living the dream. on and on and. . . . on. . . .                                                                                 http://picworkspottery.blogspot.com/


#17 Davlbradly

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Posted 08 October 2010 - 01:43 PM

Back in the 70's I apprenticed in a 100 year old folk pottery in east Texas throwing old time crockery. Each of the ten potters threw upwards of 2000 lbs of clay each day, for years! The secret was using soft clay, and standing to throw. Having the wheel head at hip level allows you to keep the back straight instead of rounding forward. I have been throwing all these years since with wheels set up on cinder blocks or using the wheel stands made by various wheel manufacturers. Steady your body by touching your hip against the wheel table, better yet, build a wooden frame around your wheel so you can brace your arms against it for support when you center.
In addition to using soft clay the potters in that factory did very little spiral wedging. They cut the clay and slapped it together 20 times, then rolled it into a ball. This method saves the wrists. I am 56, and can still throw 1000 lbs of clay a day working by myself.
David

#18 lizet pottery

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Posted 08 October 2010 - 03:58 PM

I 've been teaching health and safety in my clay classes for years. I have a vision: i walk into studios and see different hgt tables and wheels for diff hght students.
Use physics instead of strength. Leverage and straight lines are powerfull and prevent wriest and back problems. That said - now that I'm in my 50's - I do warm up exercises before I throw, especially shoulder movements. I have my wheel raised high enough so my back stays straight. I have used a stand up treadel wheel ( and loved it) and thinking of raising my wheel so I stand up to throw. One of the easiest wheels I ever used was mounted on short ceiling and then you threw down , it was real easy because gravity was doing all the work.

Another issue is hearing lost because we turn up the radio or ipod to drown out the wheel noise. GET A QUIET WHEEL and turn down the tunes, save your ears.



I am only 24, and already have some back issues. Thanks so much for the tip about a higher wheel, I never even thought about that. I should probably get a higher work table too.

#19 claylady21

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Posted 08 October 2010 - 06:34 PM

John, I am interested in what you teach in your throwing class that help with body issues. Would you share? I find I spend too much time bent over sideways to look at the pot as I throw.
Something that helps me, I think is doing an exercise that promotes eveness, like bike riding, or riding horses. If you do either one crookedly, you tend to fall off, or go in circles!
I do get massage regularly, and if I get too uncomfortable, feeloing stuck or jammed, I go to my chiropractor.



#20 claylady21

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Posted 08 October 2010 - 06:35 PM

I have added a large mirror placed in front of my wheel so that I do no bending. I can see the whole form as I am throwing, no bending sideways either. Placement of stool to be at the same height as the wheel head is also helpful so that you are bent over the clay and lifting from above.




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