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Sculptor Turned PTA Student Educates Local Artists on Repetitive Strain Injuries

By Meaghan Cayer on April 19, 2017
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Lisa Hillengas has always been interested in understanding the human body. At the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), she was a sculpture major. In her free time, she was a figure skater and Pilates instructor. It was a natural transition, then, when she decided to enroll in the Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program at Bay State College. 

During their first semester, Lisa and her classmates were told about the service learning project they would be working on throughout their 2-year program. Lisa immediately thought of her time at RISD, when she sustained repetitive strain injuries from her work and went to physical therapy to be treated. She was now in the position to use her unique background to help others going through the same experience. 

"There's definitely a need for educating individual artists about the occupational risks and injuries they may encounter," said Lisa. "But there isn't a lot of research out there about it. It's kind of been overlooked." 

Lisa originally decided to run an in-person workshop focused on this topic. In the process of researching and reaching out to different art communities and organizations, however, something clicked. Lisa posted about her project on a Facebook page for RISD alumni, and received a response from a RISD representative. They had been searching for someone to conduct this exact workshop – online. 

Lisa had never participated in a webinar before, but she was up for the challenge. She spoke with RISD ahead of time to review the ins and outs of conducting a webinar, and had a dress rehearsal the day before. On January 13th, she presented her live webinar. 

The description read: 

Art as a physical practice puts specific, and often prolonged, demands on the body of the artist. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” This is quite literally the case with occupational impacts in physical health, yet it is often overlooked in the visual arts field. 

This webinar will discuss these specific occupational risks as well as identify the overuse injuries most common to the visual artist. Whether you are painting a canvas, rocking a copper plate, or drawing on a Cintiq, it will address how to reduce stress and strain to help avoid injury and maximize efficiency. The preventative measures Lisa will share include techniques in posture, body mechanics, stretching, and more. Learn what you can do to promote your health and wellness as a visual artist so you can keep doing what you do. 

"I was nervous. It was a presentation – and a presentation in a format that was completely new to me. But I really enjoyed it because I like this topic and I was excited to share it with other people who were interested in it. Everyone was engaged and asking questions. It was really fun for me." 

It was fun for the participants, too. The live attendance for Lisa's webinar was higher than normal, and all of the participant stayed until the end. After the webinar, participants were asked to rate how interesting they found the presentation. Lisa received a rating above 90%. 

On Thursday, April 20, 2017, Lisa and other second-year PTA students presented their service learning projects to the Bay State College community. Learn more here, then continue to read about recent service learning initiatives from all of our career-focused programs.