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Your Most Important Knitting Tools

Jun 14, 2010

I occasionally have pain in my lower left arm, and what I do to alleviate this is switch from picking to throwing, or vice-versa. By doing this, I can keep knitting—I just use a slightly different set of muscles with each technique.

Gratuitous puppy/kitty photo! I got a new kitty over the weekend. His name is Milo and his favorite toys are knitting needles.
Sometimes my hands hurt too (do you think I knit too much?!?), and what I do when that happens is switch from metal to wooden needles. The wood warms up in my hands, and it has that little bit of give that helps ease the pain.

We need to take care of our most important tools—our hands—in order for us to be able to devote  many happy hours to knitting!

Here's Knitty Editor Amy Singer to tell us a little more about taking care of our hands. (This piece appeared in the summer 2008 issue of Interweave Knits, which is now available on CD!)

Last year, I hurt myself knitting. There was no stabbing of needles involved, but a little more stabbing pain than I would have liked (none would have been better), and worst of all-it was all my fault.

I hurt myself, quite simply, by using my hands too much. I was taking full-day spinning classes at SOAR (Interweave's Spin-Off Autumn Retreat) and then knitting and spinning a little more every evening. After four days, I woke up in the middle of the night with pain in my wrists like I'd never felt before. And it was all avoidable.

In my case, I'd aggravated an old case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). I should have known better: There's a wealth of information on the subject on the Internet! The number-one piece of CTS-related advice you'll find on the Web is to take frequent breaks from any repetitive activity.

Gentle stretching of the hands and wrists is often recommended for knitters, crocheters, and spinners, and some sites offer a selection of suggested exercises.

Of course, it's not just your wrists that can be injured in the seemingly innocent act of knitting; good posture is essential if you're going to be stationary for a while. There are great sources for ergonomic products-from seating to lighting to knitting needles and crochet hooks to knitting bags-all over the Web. The Internet is full of health information, but you can't assume any of it is accurate just because it's on the Web. Know the source of your information and check with your doctor before beginning any course of treatment, even if you trust the information source.

Sure, the Mayo Clinic's website is likely more accurate than Joe's Nifty Health News, but only your doctor knows your history and what's right for you. I found a few handy pages from government agencies that give additional guidelines on where to look for the most trustworthy health information, and I'll share those with you on the Knits blog (

Also remember: It's really easy to misdiagnose yourself with Internet information. Unless you're a doctor, use the Internet with prudence for health-related research. You don't need an anxiety disorder on top of strained muscles.

Here are some exercises from the makers of Handeze Gloves. I do these and they're really helpful.

Hand Massage: With the thumb of the left hand, massage the palm of the right hand. At the same time, wrap the fingers of the left hand round the outside of the right hand and massage. Massage for one minute. Repeat with opposite hand.

Clench and Fan: Clench your hand into a tight fist and hold for five seconds. Release smoothly, extending the thumb and fingers into a fully stretched position and hold for five seconds. Repeat five times for each hand.

Thumb Stretch: With the left hand, gently pull the thumb of the right hand away from the thumb and down toward the forearm. Hold for five seconds. You should feel the stretch in the base of the thumb, palm side. Repeat for the left thumb. Five repetitions, alternate thumbs
Wrist Stretch: Hold the right hand in front of the body, palm facing out, fingertips up, fingers together. With the left hand, grasp the right hand's outstretched fingers and gently pull the fingers back toward the body. Hold for five seconds. You should feel the stretch in the wrist area. Repeat for the left wrist. Five repetitions, alternative wrists.
Wrist Circles: With hands in front of the body and elbows held at a comfortable angle, gently rotate the wrists. Five repetitions in each direction. Good work! Now you're ready to knit in comfort!

Knit healthfully!



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SusanL@109 wrote
on Jun 17, 2010 5:02 AM

When I was in high school....way back!....I took cosmotology. Every morning our teacher would start our day by going thru these exact exercises. I have always done them on a regular basis, so when I started knitting they really came in handy! They do help.

TieDye wrote
on Jun 16, 2010 7:11 PM

I had pain in my left wrist. It was so bad I went to the ER. After an xray and a visit to an orthopedic doctor, carpel tunnel was ruled out. The pain would sometimes be in my left hand sometimes in the right.There were days I couldn't dress myself the pain was so bad. The ortho doctor took a wait and see attitude. I talked to my GP and she sent me for some blood test. It turns out I have rheumatoid arthritis.

DonnaLeeG wrote
on Jun 16, 2010 10:02 AM

I mostly do crochet, but have the same types of hand problem.  My biggest problem is arthritis, which makes a lot of the suggestions difficult - it's hard to massage one hand with the other when both are hurting!  I find that fingerless support gloves, like the hand-eze, are helpful.  I also use cushions on all of my crochet hooks to make it easier to grasp them.  I have a parafin bath that I use when my hands are really bad, and I just have to pace myself.  But continuing to use them keeps them going, so I'm not about to quit crafting - I just need to be aware of the pain and quit before it gets too bad, so that I'm able to pick it up again later.

on Jun 15, 2010 4:07 PM

Hi Beth,

I've passed on your question to our eMedia team. I'll let you know what they say.



Michelle613 wrote
on Jun 15, 2010 12:22 PM

Great Post! It's very informative..

It tells me again on how to take care of hands while knitting..

Thank  you for the hand exercise. I may too use this after i knit.

Ohh I love your puppy..Milo is so cute..^_^ no wonder why his favorite toy is knitting needles..

Have a great time knitting!

dmf122552 wrote
on Jun 15, 2010 7:34 AM

Fantastic............... I can't wait to try these little exercises. My left hand, between the thumb and index finger, takes a beating and I have to stop spinning and knitting for a few days. Needless to say my family takes the brunt of my grumpiness when this happens. Thank you so much for sharing!

Donna Freeman

Sellersville, PA

BethS@73 wrote
on Jun 15, 2010 4:38 AM

Kathleen, can you add the URL link to the Blog in your daily newsletter?  The message says you can read the blog in your browser, but there is not a direct link.

I have to go to the Reply line in email and then choose Go to URL and then I have to search for the blog.  One step would be faster.  Is it possible?

Thank you for the wrist exercises and the follow-up comments about neck and forearm from readers.  We needleworkers often use the computer often too and we need help with the health of our back, neck, arms, wrists, and all body parts!


reikigrl wrote
on Jun 14, 2010 7:55 PM

I'm speaking here as both someone who used to have carpal tunnel syndrome (from computer usage, violin, and crocheting) and a massage therapist.  In many cases, there are two locations that cause the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome.  Some of the problem can be caused in the wrist itself (especially with knitters, musicians, and people who have poor ergonomics at a computer), where essentially the joint itself ends up slightly misaligned.  It can be contributory to the inflamed tendons, clicking in the wrist, and general stiffness in elbow and wrist.  This is usually not the primary cause of the problem, however.  Most of the problem is usually in the neck.  Much of the tingling or numbness in specific fingers, some of the tendon issues in the shoulder, etc. can be caused by what we call trigger points, which are a type of knot putting pressure on the nerve.  Many massage therapists have been trained to work with trigger points, and for a much more complete treatment you can combine that with someone who works with fascia, either myofascial release or rolfing.  A combination of bodywork, stretching, and improved ergonomics can reverse the damage of carpal tunnel, and help you to avoid surgical intervention.  I had carpal tunnel syndrome for 7 years, and have now been pain free for over 9.

on Jun 14, 2010 7:19 PM

I am currently getting acupuncture in my thumb and hands trying to relieve the pain and stiffness that I am experiencing from working on a computer all day and trying to knit in my spare time!  I of course would rather knit than sit at a computer all day, but my knitting doesn't pay the bills!!!  Boo hoo!!  Anyway, thank you for the excercises, I will definitely try them.  I have put down my knitting for the time being, in hopes that I will be able to get back to it painfree, although my chiropractor told me that as long as I'm on a computer all day, I will probably always have some pain.  I better stop typing this comment now, because I'm overusing my hands.  Thanks for listening!!!

on Jun 14, 2010 5:44 PM

The best way to avoid pain is to learn >how to move< while knitting.  Movement in knitting is what keeps our joints limber, and precisely the thing that will make good on those exercises.  And that movement, believe it or not, comes from the BIG joints in the arms.

I teach movement in knitting with some regularity.  The biggest thing I suggest is that we knit not with our needles and not with our fingers, but with our BODIES.  This is a big subject (and I come at it from the standpoint of musicianship) and definitely worth exploring.  Imho, there's a lot more to knitting than exercises in between.  HTH,

ohlordie wrote
on Jun 14, 2010 2:17 PM

Thank you so much for the article "Your Most Important Knitting Tools."  I , too, knit  (and crochet) until my hands start begging me to stop.  I, of course, don't want to stop!!  I go to bed with aching hands.  Thank you for the hand exercises.  I will try them each day and be more giving to my hands -- without them I wouldn't be able to do what I love most -- knit and crochet.

My hands thank you!!!!


B.L wrote
on Jun 14, 2010 1:38 PM

There's an excersize that I do to stretch my knitting, and computer mouse, muscles.  I found myself doing this just because it feels good.

I put my hands down to my side.  Spread my fingers as far as they'll go.  Then I raise my hands, slowly, at the wrist, and move them back and forth, again, slowly, as if waving to someone on the floor .

P.S.  Thanks for the gratuitous puppy/kitty photo.

JudeM wrote
on Jun 14, 2010 1:37 PM

Because of knitting (well, that plus my bad posture), I developed a rotator-cuff issue. The pain was in my left shoulder and radiated down my arm, sometimes to my fingers, and up my arm across my collar bone. Youch! Of course I didn't want to stop knitting, and the good news was that I didn't have to. I learned a lot about rotator-cuff problems and how to heal them, mainly from a book. I did some exercises and tried hard to remember not to slump forward when sitting or standing. Yay! Everything is getting much better.

LynnC wrote
on Jun 14, 2010 1:13 PM

I have had both my thumbs fixed, and no more pain.  They break the joint at the base of your thumb, take a piece of your tendon from your arm and wrap it around the thumb joint to replace the lost cartilege, and put it all back together.  No more pain AT ALL, but it was the most painful recovery for about a month of all my surgeries, as every nerve goes into your thumb.  But it was worth it.  I lost a little strength in my thumb, but that is what my husband (or friend) is for.

on Jun 14, 2010 12:48 PM

Kathleen -

Love the new kitty - wow only 2 days and he's sleeping with the puppy!  He must be really grateful to have found a forever home.


on Jun 14, 2010 10:00 AM

There's another remedy really useful when you might have inflamed CTS or your hands just hurt from being used too much.  Quite simply, you massage the muscles in your forearm near your elbow--those are the ones that actually manipulate your hand as the hand has none of its own.  I've been swarmed with commissions to knit Tom Baker scarves from the Doctor Who series, and 16 feet of garter stitch over and over can really do a number on you.  I tried alternating how I sat, how I held things, how long I knitted at a time, but what got me back the fastest was rubbing away the strain in my forearm.  It only takes about five minutes to get you back knitting again, too, which is the best part.

I hope this helps!


katmandoooo wrote
on Jun 14, 2010 9:54 AM

Thank you for reminding me how to take care of my hands! Next will you discuss elbows? (Yes, "tennis elbow" happens to knitters too!)

This excellent post reminded me of a tool I had and wore out years ago, and must repurchase soon. I used to own a pair of elasticized, fingerless gloves made expressly for knitters, I do believe, although for writers like myself who also knit, we have twice the stress on our precious hands! I loved my gloves, putting them on was like getting a hand massage.

I do not remember what they are called, but a Google search will reveal the details, I'm sure. Thank you so much for reminding me.