Repeated Stress and Knitting
It is hard to believe that something you like to do may be painful, but when it comes to knitting, there is too much good for some people.
Repetitive stress injuries and knitters
The problem is known as repetitive stress injury or RSI for short. You have probably heard of carpal tunnel syndrome, which is often a specific RSI, but is not always caused by prolonged work on a computer.
RSI is a more general term for a condition of the arms, wrists, neck, shoulders and/or back caused by repeated execution of a movement, often in a way that is not comfortable or correct for your body.
Knitters with RSI often have problems with their wrists, back, hands, necks or other combinations. Their problems can be caused by sitting in a bad posture for a long time, gripping the needles too tightly or putting too much weight on the wrists when doing a large project.
RSI is much easier to prevent than treat, and the most important thing you can do to prevent RSI is to work in moderation. Follow these guidelines for a healthier craft:
- Set a timer. Take a 10-minute break every half hour or 45 minutes. Get up. Walk around, do some stretches, drink some water (hydration helps keep joints healthy) and stop when you feel tired.
- Use circular knitting needles for large projects. Afghans, long scarves and sweaters are heavy, and if you keep the whole project on a straight needle, your wrists will be under a lot of strain. Even if your project is straight, using a circular needle will help distribute the weight and make your wrists happier.
- Use fat needles. Large needles are easier to grip and put less strain on your hands than small needles. Of course, not all projects can be done with large needles, but if you’ve had an injury in the past, it can’t hurt to choose projects that were done with large needles, which is easier on your hands.
- Sit upright. The posture is important when you sit in the same position for a long time. Sit up straight, keep your feet on the floor and remember to take breaks. If you have had RSI problems, you can also rest your arms on cushions or armrests to further support the body and distribute the weight of your project.
What happens if you get a knitting related stress injury? Common symptoms are:
- Knitting complaints that disappear at other times
- Discomfort that spreads like a pain that starts in the shoulder and radiates down the arm the longer you knit
If you feel any of these symptoms, stop knitting immediately and place an ice pack on the affected area. If the ice does not help, take ibuprofen.
If the injury is severe, a visit to your doctor may be appropriate. Painkillers may be prescribed or your doctor may recommend other treatments, such as wearing a wrist support at night (it is not normally recommended to wear a support when knitting, although therapeutic gloves may be helpful to improve circulation).
If you have an RSI injury, remember to rest. Take a few days off and use ice and any other treatments your doctor recommends.
After a few days rest, you may be able to knit daily for a short time, but do not overdo it. An injured hand (or wrist, shoulder, elbow or back) can be injured much more easily again, and if there is enough damage, you may be out for weeks or even months. So be quiet, take care of yourself, and watch out for the damage you might cause if you tinker for a long time.