Sunday, 27 March 2016

Arm Pain and Knitting

Knitting is a way of life for many of us.  It has meditative qualities, allows you to be productive while watching a movie in the evenings, is relaxing, is a great way to solve problems, and allows you to be creative and produce one-of-a-kind garments that are uniquely yours.  The more you knit, the more you want to knit.  Knitting 3+ hours a day, every day, of every week of every month for years and years can take it's toll. 

Having received diagnosis's for 2 Frozen Shoulders over the years, and having experienced constant pain irritated by knitting, I have made some observations and found remedies which may help other knitters.  It has been my experience, that knitting in certain people and conditions, can cause shoulder, bicep and elbow tendinitis.  When you continue to work through the pain, the inflammation builds, the pain intensifies, and adhesive capsulitis can set in. 

Before we begin, observe your body after you've been knitting for awhile.  Freeze your position and you'll notice your arms are tense.  Shoulders are elevated, upper arms are tense and elbows have been in a bent position while working for awhile. Your head is often held down and the center back of your neck is tender.  Crocheters tend to have issues with carpal tunnel because of all the wrist movement.  It's been my experience that knitters usually don't have a problem with their wrists as much as they do with their forearms, upper arms, and shoulders. 

1.  If you exercise regularly (by exercise I don't mean knitting) you are less likely to experience pain.  Even 100 jumping jacks every day helps strengthen the arm muscles and provide joint stability. 

2.  Stretching after exercise and while knitting is essential.  Take a break from knitting every 30 min. and stretch your arm (bicep, tricep, forearm, shoulder, - move everything around and hold the stretches).

3.  Switch to circular needles which allows the weight of the garment to rest on your lap instead of being held by your arms.

4.  Wear reading glasses while you knit which allows you to hold your fabric lower and avoid the temptation to work with the garment held mid-tummy or chest level, which adds weight to your arms.

5.  Check your posture.  Sit up straight and place a pillow behind your back to help with this.

6.  Place pillows under each elbow to support arms and take tension off your upper arms. 

7.  When you have pain, stop.  No really, stop knitting.  It's a death sentence for addicts, BUT, it's temporary.  Take a break for a few days, or however long it takes for the pain to subside.  Do something else.  Look through books and pick out your next pattern, buy yarn, learn a new technique from a reference book, add a new reference book to your library, make a list of things you want to knit, inventory your supplies, wind hanks of yarn into skeins, visit your LYS and immerse yourself in all things knitting, look online at knitting tutorials, take an online knitting course from, organize your knitting supplies.  Just stop the motion of knitting for a short bit.

8.  To alleviate pain: 
  1. stretch
  2. rest
  3. take ibuprofen as anti-inflammatory
  4. take turmeric capsules (natural anti-inflammatory)
  5. take magnesium supplements (600 mg. daily for a month, then taper down to 300 mg/day)
  6. ice the area for 20 min. at a time, (a great tip is to use a heating pad for 15-20 min. then ice 15-10 min. and repeat.  Begin with heat, end with ice.)
9.  Knit with finer yarns and smaller needles.  You won't work as hard knitting with a size 1 needle and flexible fingering yarn as you will with size 10 needles and bulky, stiff yarn.  

10.  Knit with natural fibers.  Pure wool is elastic and easy to work with.  Alpaca slides through your fingers effortlessly and is light as air. 

11.  Avoid cotton.

12.  Work on lace patterns and try to stay away from large cables which require more muscle effort as you twist and pull stitches.

Knitting without pain is a given for some people.  But for those of us who do experience pain, and sometimes you're just genetically predisposed to tendonitis, there are ways to alleviate the pain the still knit.

By being aware of what's happening, changing your posture and habits, you can continue to knit for a lifetime.  Know that if you experience pain, and develop tendinitis, after you rest, stretch, ice, etc .and the pain goes away, it will just come back again after you get back into your knitting routine.  This is why improving your posture while knitting, and the way you knit is so important. 

I hope you find relief from some of these tips.  And please share other tried and true remedies and tricks of the trade that helped you.

A good resource for tendinitis is

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