Introduction - learn about back pain tips for quilters!
Quilting is a beloved pastime for many, offering a creative outlet and a sense of accomplishment with every completed project. However, for avid quilters, there's often an uninvited guest that can disrupt the joy of quilting - back pain. In this blog post, we'll explore some tips and strategies to help quilters manage and prevent back pain, so you can continue to enjoy your quilting journey pain-free.
Understanding Back Pain in Quilters
Types of Back Pain
Back pain comes in various forms, including acute and chronic pain. Common causes can include poor posture, prolonged sitting, and repetitive motions. It is quite common to have pain between the shoulder blades, and along the neck muscles.
Many of us also have back pain that is completely unrelated to quilting and sewing from old injuries, chronic pain, or surgeries, and we feel the effects when we quilt.
Impact of Quilting on the Back
Quilting often involves long hours of sitting and performing repetitive movements, which can strain your back.
Recognizing the impact of your quilting habits on your back is the first step in addressing and preventing pain.
Tip #1 Have an Ergonomic Workspace
Changing up your position when you sew, the shape you put your body into, can make the biggest difference when it comes to back pain.
Creating an ergonomic quilting space is essential. Ensure that your chair and table are at the right height, and invest in proper lighting to reduce eye strain.
It’s all about the chair & the table you sew at.
When you’re sitting down to sew, you want your elbows and your knees to both be at 90 degree angles.
You can also try different heights of the table/chair combo, For some quilters the key will be lowering the table, for others, raising the table height alleviates pain.
Take note of your comfort or pain level when you sew not only at your own table but in other locations. When you find that you can sew for a couple of hours or more comfortably, measure the height of the tabletop to the floor and the chair seat to the floor. That will be your ideal setup.
These are the chairs we use at our Retreat Center, and quilters rave about them. Many people go buy them immediately after our retreat!
They're adjustable and have very solid back support. Some quilters do like to bring a pillow to sit on or lean against so they can customize their seating.
Additionally, a place that could be causing your back pain is your cutting table. If you’re cutting fabric at a table that is too low or too high for long periods of time, you’ll probably find yourself hurting later.
You can modify a table to bring the height up for cutting by using bed risers, or we have also used these inexpensive adjustable height tables for things like cutting or basting & stacking quilts for binding.
You also need good lighting while sewing, and maybe you’re thinking, what does lighting have to do with back pain? If your lighting is bad, you’ll probably be leaning in close to see your fabrics and, as a result, hunching your back or shoulders forward.
Tip #2 Maintaining Good Posture While Quilting
A good chair can only do much if you’re slouching in it, or your shoulders are hunched forward over your sewing machine.
Practice good posture by aligning your back, neck, and hands. Take regular breaks to stretch and walk around, keeping your body limber and pain-free. Imagine that you have a string attached to the top of your head pulling you straighter. Then give your shoulder blades a slight squeeze.
Also, it’s not just during your quilting sessions that you should consider your posture. How are you sitting when on your computer or cell phone or watching TV? Good posture as often as possible will keep your muscles in tip top sewing shape!
If you want to learn more, HollyAnne of String & Story has an amazing blog post with pictures on good & bad sewing postures!
Tip #3 Don’t sew nonstop
There are two parts to this.
First - while you’re actually sewing, take micro-breaks.
Every time you finish sewing a seam, or you’ve cut all of the pieces for that particular fabric, lean back in your chair, or stretch your shoulders, and gently move your neck around. These micro breaks will help release tension and help you keep your posture good.
The second part - take breaks during your quilting sessions to stand up, move around, and gently stretch your body. These brief intermissions can work wonders for your back. We’d love to tell you to do this every 30 minutes, but we know most quilters will sew for an hour straight without getting up, so at a minimum…take a break every hour.
Get up, walk around, go out to your garden, play with your puppy, get some coffee, or take a quick dance break!
Tip #4 Do Exercises and Strengthening for Quilters
No one told you when you started quilting that to keep quilting without pain…you’d need to exercise too??
It’s true though. Quilting is a surprisingly physical activity, and adding more exercising and stretching can help you sew without pain.
The Importance of a Strong Core
Strengthening your core muscles can significantly reduce back pain. Incorporate core exercises into your routine, like planks and leg raises.
There are certain exercise types that are helpful for quilters, including chair yoga or pilates. Did you know there are even free Sewing Yoga classes on Youtube you can watch and do from your sewing chair?
Stretching Routines to Prevent Stiffness
Regularly stretch your neck, shoulders, lower back, and hips to prevent stiffness and discomfort. Stretching can be done during breaks and between quilting sessions.
Doing light stretches before you sew as a “warm up” can also be helpful. This Phsyical Therapist has a sewing warm up routine you can watch for free on Youtube. There are also some very good hand and wrist exercises in this video if you have issues with carpal tunnel or other types of hand and wrist pain while quilting.
You might also want to check out this book about sewing, posture & stretches!
Pain Management Strategies & Quilting with Chronic Pain
It can feel very frustrating and stressful to be in chronic or temporary back pain and want to enjoy your hobby, so here are some additional ways to address your pain and still quilt.
Tip #5 Your mindset is everything.
Quilting with chronic pain or chronic illness may require you to modify what other quilters are doing, or what you used to do, but it is entirely possible. Don’t focus on what you can’t do or how you used to do things. Instead, experiment and try new things.
If your mindset is affected by outside stress, and its compounding into physical pain, take action to calm your mind.
Incorporate mindfulness and relaxation practices into your daily routine to reduce stress, which can exacerbate back pain.
Mindfulness activities that can help include listening to audio books or podcasts, meditation, taking easy walks, or even mindful coloring pages like these.
Tip #6 Cold and Hot Therapy
Cold packs can help reduce inflammation, while hot packs can soothe and relax sore muscles. Alternate between them as needed. Icy Hot can alleviate a lot of muscle soreness.
You want to talk to a medical professional about this, but hot or cold treatments can be extremely helpful.
Tip #7 Drink plenty of water.
Dehydration is a very common source of muscle stiffness and pain. Having a bottle of water at your sewing table can help you remind yourself to stay hydrated.
Tip #8 Gentle Massage Techniques
A gentle self-massage or a professional massage can alleviate tension in your back and shoulders.
Consider hiring a masseuse for your next quilt retreat! In fact, we have a massage therapist who will do in-house massages for your retreat when you stay with us at Camellia Palms Retreat Center!
Tip #9 Consultation with a Healthcare Professional
If your back pain persists or worsens, consult a healthcare professional for a personalized assessment and treatment plan.
Tip #10 Coping with Pain-Related Stress? Call a friend
Living with chronic pain can be emotionally taxing. Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist to help you cope with the emotional aspects of back pain.
Sometimes getting your mind off of the pain is the best thing for it. Schedule a coffee date with a friend, or call someone on the phone to see how they’re doing, if you can’t leave home but you want to feel connected to someone else.
Tip #11 Seeking Support from the Quilting Community
The quilting community is a wonderful resource for advice, support, and camaraderie. Connect with fellow quilters to share experiences and solutions for managing back pain.
It’s also important to give back and share your own experiences and tips for managing back pain within the quilting community. You might just help someone else find relief!
In the world of quilting, back pain doesn't have to be an inevitable companion. By understanding the causes of back pain, implementing ergonomic practices, and taking care of your physical and mental well-being, you can continue to enjoy quilting with comfort and joy. Remember, your passion for quilting should never be limited by back pain, so take these tips to heart and quilt on, pain-free!