Repetitive strain injuries — the dark side of knitting and crochet
The only thing worse than a knitter or crocheter not being able to knit or crochet, is to not be able to do so because of an injury.
In this article, we’ll look at the most common complaints and injuries and steps that you can take to keep from either getting hurt or making the injury worse.
Most of the injuries that knitters and crocheters struggle with are repetitive strain injuries.
What are repetitive strain injuries?
Repetitive strain injuries (or RSI) are injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, which is most often associated with working on a computer for very long hours. RSI can affect not only the wrists, but also the hands, shoulders, neck or back — or a combination of these joints.
Knitters and crocheters can also get such injuries because of the way in which the same motions are repeated over and over as stitches are made while keeping a specific tension on the yarn and holding the weight of a project in your hands as well.
The Spruce Crafts also notes that RSI problems are caused by “sitting for too long and with a poor posture, gripping the needles to tightly, or putting too much weight on the wrists”.
Other joints, like the hips and knees can also be affected by strain and pain if you sit for too long or sit in a position that causes strain on these joints.
Symptoms of repetitive strain injuries and how to treat them
The common symptoms of RSI can include any or all of the following:
- Discomfort while knitting or crocheting
- Pain that spreads — for example, starting in the shoulder and spreading down the arm, or starting in the elbow and spreading down the arm.
If you feel any of these symptoms, the first step is to put down whatever you’re busy with (yes, even if that means that the gift you’re making will be a few days late).
Put an ice pack on the affected joint(s) and rest it. If this doesn’t help, take some ibuprofen or your health care practitioner’s advice on anti-inflammatory and pain medication, and rest for a few days.
How to keep from getting repetitive strain injuries — the ergonomics of knitting and crochet
When we’re looking at ways to keep from getting repetitive strain injuries, it becomes apparent that posture and style of working plays huge rolls.
Sitting upright and with good posture is very important when you are knitting and crocheting. Not only is slumping bad for your back and neck, you will also find that you will need to take more and longer breaks because you are in pain.
If you need to, get a lumbar support cushion to support your back while you are sitting. You can also put cushions or pillows under your arms for support — especially if you’re working on a large or heavy project.
There are also environmental factors that you have to keep in mind when you’re knitting and crocheting. The most important of these are light and your light source.
Good light to work by
Good daylight is surely the best light to work in, but many knitters only have time in the evening to sit down and knit or crochet. To keep from having to strain your eyes to see and count your stitches, rather make sure that you are seated in such a way that you have enough light.
While there are many hobby lamps of different sizes available, you can even just have a “normal” desk or other lamps that you can position in order to see better.
If you can, try to use a daylight bulb instead of the usual warm or cool white light bulbs. This will ensure that you not only see better but that you can also tell similar colors apart much more easily.
Using light-up crochet hooks for dark yarn
Crochet companies have found an ingenious way to light up your work and that makes it especially easy to work with dark or black yarn whenever your light source isn’t 100% — light-up crochet hooks!
There are now many types of these light-up hooks available, but they all work on the same principle; the tip of the crochet hook is clear, meaning that a tiny light bulb can be inside the crochet hook and, when switched on, streams light along the crochet hook’s tip.
This makes it easy to not only see the stitch(es) that you have on the hook, but also the stitch you have to work into and its surrounding stitches. Therefore, you won’t have to squint to see the stitches and strain your eyes while working.
Here are two of our favorite light-up crochet hooks to take a look at:
You don’t have to buy a lighted crochet hook specifically, though. Some crocheters will even use a headlamp to shine light on their project when they’re using dark yarn! This is especially handy when working with crochet thread and very lightweight/thin yarns.
Working on your technique
Your crochet technique
Another way your crochet may be causing you discomfort is through using a wrong technique while crocheting. Often we don’t even realize that we use bad technique until we’re starting to hurt!
Check the following to see if your technique can be improved:
- Are you holding the yarn too tightly or keeping your wrist “locked” while working?
- Are you clutching the crochet hook tightly? Or keep on increasing the pressure on the hook as you concentrate more and more on the pattern that you’re making?
- Are you twisting your wrist(s) a lot when you’re making the stitches?
To counter this, try out different ways of holding the hook and the yarn. You can also practice using smaller movements while crocheting so that you don’t twist your wrists too much.
Here are some more tips and tricks to keep you from getting a RSI from crocheting —
The 3 most popular and main knitting methods
The movements for the knitting is different for English, Continental, or Portuguese knitting methods and using different methods may help to reduce the chances of repetitive strain injuries.
Here are some videos to show you how to do these three different knitting methods:
Here is also a video by Knitting vlogger, podcaster, and knitting designer, Knitting Expat in which she demonstrates how she knits. As you’ll see, she uses very little movement to knit, which can also be beneficial and is well worth a try!
Though not caused by knitting and crochet, these yarn crafts can exacerbate arthritis in your hands or other joints (for example if you sit too long.
An easy way to alleviate the pain (especially while you’re still learning how to hold your knitting or crochet differently), is to wear compression gloves.
At least one of our faithful readers swears by them for some of the pain in her hands caused by Fibromyalgia as well.
If you have a look on Amazon (or your local yarn or quilting shop), you should be able to find some. Just be sure to measure your hands properly as gloves that are too tight can do more harm than good in the long run.
You can also learn Portuguese knitting, as this way of knitting often helps to take the strain off your hands and joints.
Other tips for staying injury and pain-free while knitting and crocheting, are:
- Take a short break of 10 minutes every half hour to 45 minutes to stand up, stretch, and walk around a bit
- If you start to feel that your hands/neck/back, etc. is getting tired, put the project down and rest first — don’t wait for your joints to ache before putting it down.
- Do some knitting and crochet hand stretching exercises, as explained and shown in this article.
- Use ergonomic knitting needles and crochet hooks that will put less strain on your hands and wrists.
If you do find that you have persistent or recurring pain, then you should see a health care practitioner as soon as possible.