Monday, May 16, 2016

Self-Care For People Who Would Rather Be Knitting Right Now

As I work through some issues that have been preventing me from knitting recently, I realized that sharing some of what's worked for me might be helpful to others. I think we've all had this issue at one point or another - and when all you want to do is knit, self care can be the one thing that you let slip (I assume I'm not the only one here....wouldn't we ALL rather be knitting?!).

Over the 10+ years I've knitted, I have occasionally experienced hand, wrist or arm pain - almost always in my left arm, despite the fact that I'm right handed...or perhaps that's the cause?! At any rate, I have learned to manage said pain pretty effectively over the years, but recently I had a huge flare-up that I think was brought on by two factors: extended working hours typing at my laptop and knitting ALL THE SOCKS.

For whatever reason, my left arm and hand grip the daylights out of a sock project. I had moved away from knitting socks as my primary project in the past few years - long enough to forget the reason why. So when my brain decided it was time to knit socks, sock and nothing but hands sure weren't up to the task! Which totally blows, because I love knitting socks. But there's something about the tiny yarn, tiny needles, and tiny circumference that makes me hang on to everything like there is no tomorrow....and after a long day of straining my hands to type emails, blogs, and the like, it's just not a good idea to spend 4+ hours knitting on projects which contribute to that strain.

So, I had to put all of those lovely sock projects on the back burner, and figure out ways to get my left arm back into action. Obviously, I still had to work, so my first task was to make the time to take frequent breaks so that I could stretch, rest, and ice my sore arm. I've been keeping a tub of ice water which I immerse myself into up past my elbow. It's not particularly enjoyable at the time, but the results are so, so worth it.
Too many sock WIPs for me....

In my past life as a massage therapist, I learned first-hand the miracle of icing. It has virtually no contraindications (unless you've had frostbite before or have an allergy to ice, which - believe it or not - is actually a thing), unlike heat which can sometimes exacerbate the problem by increasing your inflammation. Heat may feel nice, but it's not always your friend, unfortunately. If you have your heart set on heat, at least do yourself a favor and do contrast immersion therapy - and always, ALWAYS end with ice.

I'm also a big fan of arnica - it's a homeopathic remedy which can reduce swelling, inflammation, and even make your bruises heal faster. I prefer a gel that I can rub onto the affected area, but you can also use other topical forms as well as pills.

Obviously, stretching is a big one. Most of us don't have great posture while working at a desk, or even while knitting/crocheting/spinning. I certainly don't, though I aspire to. Doing stretches to counteract these postural distortions and taking time to check in with yourself can help to lessen the overall effect. Julie of the Knitted Bliss Blog recently shared a great video which covers this a little better:

The Lion Brand Blog also has a great series on Yoga for Knitters that is worth checking out - here is their most recent post on poses to reduce shoulder pain.  I've also seen great posts on the FreshStitches, We Are Knitters, and Drea Renee Knits blogs. Honestly, you could google "hand stretches for knitters" or similar phrases and come up with a treasure trove of helpful information.
For several years, I've used a compression glove on my left hand whenever I knit or type. I've tried several and the one that works best for me is from Futuro; I did recently order a Handeze therapeutic glove and it works moderately well, though I don't feel like it compresses my wrist enough since it's not adjustable (someone on Instagram said that they wear the Handeze while they sleep at night, which I've been experimenting with over the last week). Up until recently, the compression glove has meant that I could type and knit for as much as I needed to, with little to no pain. I will admit that the three I had currently in rotation were quite old and were probably a little stretched out - just in case, I bought myself a shiny new one to start out last weekend.

Last but not least, I went and got a massage - my therapist, who is awesome, worked on my left arm for 40 full minutes, and it made a huge difference. More importantly, I was not bruised or swollen at the end of the session (or even the next day), something I mention because I found that a lot of people think that a massage has to hurt - and even hurt them - in order to be effective. I can't stress this enough: NOT SO.

There is a difference between experiencing tenderness during a massage and having a "hurts so good" release. Something that is causing you pain past that will only make the problem worse in the long run, because your body will try to protect itself by armoring the harmed area. It's important to have a therapist that can communicate with you and work within those boundaries, and I am really glad that I finally found one here in Chicago (it wasn't easy, apparently I'm picky about massages?).

Another "alternative" therapy that I've had extremely good luck with is acupuncture. I am super afraid of needles, and though the concept freaks me out a little, even now, it works wonders for me - sometimes, even in just 1 session. I have walked into my acupuncturist's office in a terrible state and come out feeling brand new.

Another thing that I've found helpful is to vary the type of projects I'm working on, both in yarn weight and needle size, or even craft. Working on a variety of different projects throughout a craft session means that, ideally, I'll be moving in different ways, instead of the same way - and we all know how important it is to avoid repetitive motions for prolonged periods of time, right? Trying something new like spinning, needle felting, crochet, or sewing gives you a lot more options when you are dying to do something creative.

Obviously, what works for me might not work for you, but if you have been having pain while crafting, I hope one of these ideas helps you get back to doing what you love. And if you have something that works for you that I didn't mention here, I would love to hear about it in the comments!


  1. I love arnica gel! Thanks for introducing me to it! I use it on myself and on my kids all the time! I think it significantly reduces bruise heal time as well.

  2. I'll have to find this arnica, we are a family of klutzes, my kid's legs during the summer look like one big bruise. Thanks for all the tips, I'm always trying to avoid any pains caused by knitting now :)

  3. I've been struggling with this lately as well! Thank you for posting... It's extra sad because not only are you not feeling well but then one thing that usually helps you feel better actually makes it worse :-(. Yet there are so many worse things in the world it feels not worth mentioning most of the time.

    I've been to the dr and while she won't officially diagnosis it without nerve testing (which won't change the treatment course anyway) it's likely carpal tunnel for me. She prescribed some mild pain reliever and PT. While I know I can find exercises online, this gives me good direction as well as the massage therapy. I'm feeling a little worse at the moment so when you say it shouldn't hurt, I wonder if I've overdone my exercises... I also have a splint, bought from a local medical supplies store, but similar to this: Bird & Cronin 08144553 Premier Wrist Brace with Thumb Spica, Left, Medium It can be worn anytime but most find it to hard to do everyday tasks with it on, so at night is most recommended. I've tried wearing it during the day and it isn't hard to do most things, but I noticed my hand getting weaker and that didn't seem like a good thing.

    I'm a Leftie but knit right handed. My job is also computer work all day for years. My left hand is much worse but the right one has mild early symptoms too. Spinning really aggravates it, the pinching motion specifically. Knitting on smaller things, like socks, can also get painful. I try to give myself a few days rest when it's really bothersome but some days the itch to knit is too much! I pay for it the next day :-/. I did go two weeks without any crafting when I got a bad flare up after trying to spin lace weight. It honestly didn't seem to help it get better.

    I will have to find that gel and see what it can do for me! Thanks for all the tips, hope you can get crafty again soon :-)

  4. Oh you poor thing, I hope your arm heals up soon. Great suggestions!

  5. ooh, the arnica gel sounds like a great idea, I will have to try that! And thanks so much for the shout out- videos are so much more work than I would have guess from the outset.