Knitting is seen as a super relaxing and rewarding hobby. We associate it with comfortable time spent on the couch, watching a movie and creating a beautiful woolen piece.
However, did you know that knitting can cause carpal tunnel? While knitting isn’t an extreme sport, there are certain side effects that it may have on your body, specifically your fingers and wrists.
Learn about what carpal tunnel is, how knitting can cause carpal tunnel, how to avoid it and how to treat it once it sets in.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Repetitive Stress Injury, RSI, is a general term giving to painful conditions in the arms, wrists, neck, and shoulders which is caused by repetitive motions, usually in a way that is not correct for the body or comfortable.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a form of RSI and is also caused by repetitive movements. The carpal tunnel is a thin passageway on the inside palm side of your wrist which is made up of ligaments and bones.
The median nerve is found here and is responsible for controlling movement and sensations in the thumb and the first three fingers. It runs along the carpal tunnel from the wrist to the tendons of the fingers and thumbs.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition in the hands and fingers, caused by the compression of the median nerve as it runs over the carpal tunnel. It is caused by repetitive movements of the hands or by fluid retention.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There are common symptoms found by those who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. Burning, tingling, itching or numbness in the palm of the hand, thumb, and fingers are all common symptoms.
With knitting, you might experience pain that only occurs when knitting, and which goes away at other times. Some people have also reported experiencing swelling and stiffness in the affected areas.
At night, the fingers might become numb and feel dead. This happens at night because your hands and fingers are at rest and relaxed when sleeping. In the morning, you might wake up with numbness and tingling that can extend from your hands towards your shoulder.
In severe cases, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to slower nerve impulses, slight or complete loss of feeling in the fingers and even a loss of coordination and strength, particularly with losing the ability to pinch with your thumb.
Prevention of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome When Knitting
There are some ways to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome happening to you if you are a knitter. Simply adjusting your knitting routine and lifestyle a bit could be all you need to stop the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Time your knitting
Knitting non-stop for extended periods of time is a cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. Avoid this by knitting in moderation. Set a timer when knitting, taking a 10-minute break after knitting for 45 minutes. Stand up, stretch a bit, have something to drink and get back to knitting. If your fingers and wrists start feeling tired or sore, rather put down the knitting for the day.
If you are working on a big project, rather use circular needles if you can. The larger projects tend to be heavier to hold, and using straight needles does put pressure on your wrists. A circular needle will help distribute the weight evenly and be gentler on your wrists.
Use Large Needles
Larger needles are much easier to grip and maneuver than smaller needles. They also put less strain on your wrists. If you have been experiencing pain or tiredness in your wrists, it might be time to take up knitting projects that require larger needles.
Check Your Posture
Posture is so important when knitting, as you will be sitting in the same position for an extended period of time. Make sure to sit up straight and keep your feet on the floor. You might even want to prop your arms up with pillows or on an armrest to help support your body and distribute weight evenly.
Be Sure To Stretch
When you are not knitting, try and stretch your wrists and fingers throughout the day. This will help strengthen them and circulate blood better. Be sure to check out my entire guide on the 5 best stretches for knitting and crocheting!
Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If you do have carpal tunnel syndrome from knitting, there are a few ways to help treat the symptoms. Some treatments range from mild to severe, depending on the diagnosis and severity of the carpal tunnel syndrome.
Disclaimer – This Website is not intended for the purpose of providing medical advice. All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.
Wrist splinting – Wrist splinting involves placing a splint to hold your wrist still while you sleep. This helps reduce the symptoms of numbness and tingling that often occur at night.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – NSAIDs like ibuprofen or Advil might help relieve the pain caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, however, this is a short term solution and does not help improve carpal tunnel syndrome in the long run.
Corticosteroids – Corticosteroids such as cortisone might be injected into the carpal tunnel by a doctor. Sometimes an ultrasound is used to help guide the injections into the right place. The corticosteroids help to reduce swelling and inflammation which helps to relieve pressure put on the median nerve. There are oral corticosteroids as well, but they aren’t nearly as effective as the injections.
Surgery – Surgery is only done if the carpal tunnel syndrome is severe or if a patient does not respond to any other forms of treatment. Surgery always holds risks, but sometimes it can be the only option. The surgery helps to relieve pressure on the nerve by cutting the ligament which is pressing down on the median nerve. There are two types of surgeries that may be performed:
Endoscopic surgery – A telescope-like device is used to see the inside of the carpal tunnel. The surgeon then cuts the ligament with one or two small incisions on the wrist or hand.
Open surgery – An incision is made on the palm of the hand, above the carpal tunnel, and then the surgeon cuts down through the ligament to free pressure on the nerve.
Knitting and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
For knitters, one of the hardest things to consider is having to one day give up knitting thanks to carpal tunnel syndrome. So, you need to do everything you can to try and stop this from happening.
There are a few adjustments you can make to your life that might give you that extra strength and relief you need to hopefully avoid being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Many of us don’t realize how tense we are at times. Start paying attention to your body. You might notice your shoulder and neck tense up during times of stress, listen to this. The same goes when you start to feel a small pain in your thumb or wrist when knitting. It might seem like nothing at first, but after a long time of knitting, it could turn into serious pain. Rather listen to your body and treat any pain early on.
Try making your movements smaller than you are used to, with everything in life. When knitting, try and keep the needles close to you and keep the yarn close to the tip of the needles. This lessens your movements drastically and helps to relieve the strain put on your wrists and fingers.
Watch your Wrist
Try and keep your wrist in a neutral position when knitting. Try not to rely on one area of your hand too much, and instead use your hand as a single unit. This takes the pressure off one area of your hand and instead distributes it evenly.
R.I.C.E is a form of treatment you can practice at home. You can do it when you first start feeling the tingles in your fingers, and even throughout treating carpal tunnel syndrome. It is non-invasive, it is safe, and can be done easily at home.
Rest – Do not overwork your body, even when knitting. Take time to rest and let your body play catch up.
Ice – Cold compression can work wonders. It helps to relieve the swelling and pain in targeted areas. Wrap an ice block up in a cloth to stop it from freezing your skin.
Compression – Use some gentle compression to ease pain and relieve pressure in affected areas.
Elevation – Keep your hands up on a pillow or armrest. This will help keep the blood flow circulating and will allow your arms, fingers, and wrists to rest and recuperate.
You can also try and take some ibuprofen to reduce pain and inflammation. They are bought over the counter and might be that extra little bit of help you need to deal with the pain and swelling.
It is a bit strange to think that you have to knit safely, but by doing things properly you will be saving yourself a lot of trouble down the line.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can really be difficult to live with, and you don’t want to have to give up what you love when you could have prevented it from happening earlier. And if carpal tunnel syndrome has already set in, don’t lose hope, there are lots of treatment options to help get you back on track and knitting again.