|Cake Decorator's Working Supplies|
1. Repetitive Motion Injuries (including Carpal Tunnel). This is the biggie for most people. Piping bags are the major culprit, but rolling fondant and any kind of repetitive motion that involves the hands can cause problems with your wrists and your hands going numb. Take breaks while working and stretch your fingers and wrists out. If you experience real pain, see your doctor, because that isn't normal and it needs to be addressed to see if it really is carpal tunnel. Because sometimes hand numbness can come from other things, including:
2. Shoulders and Neck. This is a HUGE problem for most people who decorate cakes because we tend to bend over the counter while we work. Leaning forward puts pressure on your neck and curves your shoulders forward. This will make the muscles in the front of your shoulders shorten, and the muscles in your neck stretch in ways they're not supposed to. Bad posture can make your hands go numb too, which mimics carpal tunnel, as the nerves in your shoulders and neck are pinched and twisted and generally abused. That radiates down into your hands and you end up with dead hands and a headache.
3. Your Lower Back And Hips. Standing in one position for long periods of time can give you one heck of a backache. If you tend to lean to one side or the other, which is pretty common, it can also affect your hips and radiate down into your thighs and knees. Not to mention the problem of lifting those big,heavy, stacked cakes. Get a good pair of shoes and a padded mat to stand on, and change position as much as you can. And lift from your knees, not your back.
4. Your Lungs. This will come as a surprise to a lot of people, but inhaling particles of flour, confectioner's sugar, food coloring, airbrush color, etc. is not good for you. There's a condition called "Baker's Asthma" or "Occupational Asthma" that results from inhaling particles of things you shouldn't be inhaling. I noticed that after a long petal dusting session I would have a cough that lasted for a day or two. Plus, every November I'd develop a cough that turned into laryngitis that lasted for a few weeks. I strongly suspect that it was just the end of wedding season catching up to me every year and the amount of inhaled particles reaching critical mass.
To avoid developing long-term problems, put a dishtowel or cover over the mixer when you're adding flour or powdered sugar to contain the dust, and always wear a mask when you use petal dust. I airbrush outside to prevent overspray in the house, and since I started really paying attention to it I don't have the "autumn cough" as much as I did. Now it's just the ragweed that gets me.
If you have trouble with any of these injury-prone areas, don't wait to address it. Go to a physical therapist who can show you exercises to counteract the posture problems you have, and pay attention to your posture while you work. If you have to choose between decorating cakes and your health, choose your health.
If you have ideas about alleviating any physical problems that come from long decorating sessions, please add them in the comments below!
Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at www.acaketoremember.biz and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com