Donna's Writings

03/13/2012

Knitter’s hand health

Originally posted on my Charity knitting blog back in 2007.

I’ve decided to write about keeping our hands healthy as we knit. Because so many knitters are women, I think this fits into the women’s health theme, although it applies equally to any men who knit or do fine work with their hands. Knitting injuries can be as benign as blisters or scratches, and as severe as needle puncture wounds or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but whatever damage we do to ourselves with our knitting should not be ignored! Knitting should be a fun, relaxing hobby. It should contribute to our well being and improve our health. We should never let it hurt our bodies. I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic for a few weeks, and I decided to stop thinking and stop writing today, when I saw a sidebar on the same information in the Sports issue of Knit.1 magazine. It’s obviously a timely subject.

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Last December, I spent three or four days in a row doing data entry because I’d procrastinated so much on my part-time bookkeeping job during the fall while I was traveling to Alaska and other places to promote Arctic Lace. After the final day of punching data into Quickbooks, I noticed that my left arm (the cut and paste key hand) started aching. I wasn’t finished with the job yet, but I decided that I’d better take a break from full time typing over the holidays. In the meantime, I purchased an ergonomic keyboard and a pair of Handeze therapeutic support gloves to wear whenever I worked on the computer. (I bought these gloves at Office Depot but Patternworks carries a similar product called Theragloves. They also carry velvet covered Comfort Cuffs that can be heated or cooled and worn to soothe tired wrists. Even if you don’t feel any pain or stress, these are delightful wraps filled with flax seed and scented with lavender essential oil.)

Then, I took some time off from the computer. I worked for a few hours between New Years and the TNNA show in mid-January, and hoped for the best.

My hand felt much better, even after finishing up the job after TNNA (I broke it into 1 or 2 hour segments instead of trying to finish in one more marathon of a day), but I still am having a little weakness in my wrist and the occasional twinge. I spoke to my physical therapist about it and she showed me some exercises to help strenghten my wrist. Still, if my hand is not totally better in a week or so, I’m going to make a doctor’s appointment. I don’t want any permanent damage. Why? Not because I really care that much about typing, but because I don’t want to risk losing the ability to knit (of course!).

So, with my recent personal experience of what happens when you don’t take care of your hands, here are some tips.
Start and end each knitting session with hand stretches

In addition to stretching before and after you knit, you should also take frequent breaks while you are knitting. I know it’s easy to get into the groove and before you know it, you’ve knitted straight through three hours and have gotten up to the armholes on your sweater. But this is not the best way to care for your body. Instead, knit a few rows and take a short break, pick up a glass of water, eat a carrot, scratch your head. Anything to move your hands into different positions than knitting. And don’t forget to pay attention to your posture. Bad posture puts stress on all different body parts.

There are several websites and books that include good hand exercises for knitters:

Here’s one very easy exercise from The Pleasures of Knitting:

Touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of your little finger. Don’t squeeze, just hold them together lightly touching for a few seconds or until you feel the pulse in your fingertips. Then move your thumb to the tip of your next finger, and repeat on all fingers. This simple exercise works wonders when your hands get tired from too much knitting!

Ann is a professional dancer and she teaches dance and movement at the National Theater Conservatory of the Denver Center for Performing Arts. After writing her book, Ann developed a workshop for knitters that “explores how awareness, alignment, body mechanics, and self-help hand care can play a very active role in allowing us to knit or engage in other types of handwork with comfort, balance, ease and well-being. [In the class, students] utilize techniques and acquire take-home skills that dynamically improve posture and the movement of energy throughout the body. Class material is accumulated from experience with many movement disciplines and hands on modalities.”

If you ever hear of this class being taught in your area, be sure to sign up! You won’t regret it. It’s appropriate for knitters of every skill level, so don’t be intimidated if you’re new to knitting.

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Use ergonomic tools
If you crochet, use ergonomic hooks such as Clover Soft Touch Crochet Hooks. These hooks make crocheting much easier on your hands, because they have a large, soft handle. Crocheting is often harder on your body than knitting because of the way you twist the hook to make the stitches, so the availability of these ergonomic hooks is fantastic.

wooden needlesAlas, there are no special, ergonomic knitting neeldes, but pay attention to how your hands feel when you knit with different kinds of needles. I used to love the shiny, nickel-plated needles because they are so fast to knit with. But a year or so ago, I started noticing that my hands hurt when I used these needles. I’m not sure if it’s because they are cold or because they are so hard, but I feel much better knitting with wooden and plastic needles now. Even though they are a little slower, the improvement in comfort is well worth it. Most of my needles are from Brittany, because they’re economical, but I also love the new gorgeous needles from Lantern Moon. If you knit with very small needles, try bamboo or plastic becasue the thin wooden needles are more prone to break during use. (These hooks and neeldes are great if you have arthritis, too.)

Knitters can also try different ways of holding the needles and switching between Continental and English style knitting to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries.
If you have persistent symptoms, see your doctor!

Over and over again on the Knitlist, Knit-U, and other online knitting discussion groups, I see people asking what they can do about having pain in their hands, arms, shoulders and necks. There is only one answer to this question: see your doctor. If you ever have a pain that lasts for more than a short period of time, you should not risk permanent damage. It is better to waste some money on a visit to your doctor than to end up being crippled for life because you are feeling stubborn or because you don’t want to spend the money on a doctor visit. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish about your health!

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2 Comments
  1. Thanks for sharing your story. Lately I have been having a burning sensation in my right arm and the right side of my neck has a crick in it. I can’t tell if it happens when I knit or if it’s something else. If it’s not gone in a few more days I am going to go to the Dr. It’s not the same feeling as carpal tunnel but I suppose there are lots of different repetitive stress injuries you can get when you use your hands all the time. And I can’t live without keyboard shortcuts!

  2. This is a great article, thank you for writing it!

    I used to work full time in IT and I found that when I did a lot of mouse-work, my right hand got very sore – all that clicking and dragging would just wear on the hand. I learned the keyboard shortcuts for just about everything I could, used an ergonomic keyboard (which really helps a lot) and contemplated using a stylus-and-tablet instead of a mouse (which I would have gotten if my keyboard shortcuts weren’t sufficient modification, but they worked).

    I don’t find much pain when I knit, thankfully – but I do have to be mindful of my body position when I spin, so as not to slouch or stay in one spot too long. Using a single treadle wheel helps me because I can adjust my position easily (though other people find spinning one-footed cramps them up badly, that’s what happens to me spinning two-footed).

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