Monday, July 23, 2007

Knitting Pain

Knitting and crafter's gloves; Not only that, but also knitting and carpal tunnel syndrome, knitting and tendonitis, knitting and ganglion cysts, knitting and DeQuervayn's Syndrome, knitting and arthritis, knitting and shoulder pain, knitting, knitting, knitting.
Unfortunately, I have repeatedly gotten hits on my blog from people who google the term "crafter's gloves". Now, I understand that google would list my blog in response to that term. It is a common term, but not one that the manufacturers of such gloves often use. I used it in an entry when I first began this blog. I'm just not sure why the people searching are reading my blog. I assume that it is because I specifically mention hand pain caused by knitting and my use of crafter's gloves in that post.

I assume that they are experiencing such pain and are looking for relief. I ignored this searching, searching, for a while. Now I'm composing a response to it. I'm not complaining here about my problems with knitting and hand pain, I'm merely relating my experience.

Knitting can cause pain. I have experienced this pain, but don't anymore. I have successfully treated pain from knitting, including tendonitis in my forearms, ganglion cysts in my wrists and hands, and bursitis in my shoulder. I no longer suffer from these pains, but I still knit. I relied on my doctor's advice in dealing with these pains. Absolutely, the proper action is to see a doctor.

However, if you are googling for answers, I can guess that you don't want to see a doctor or you have seen a doctor and didn't like the doctor's answer.

Here is the knitter's answer. Take it as it is, just the experience of someone with a similar problem. There's no certainty that it will help, but it is what I do:

First, stop knitting.

*hah hahahahah!*

If you wanted to stop knitting you probably wouldn't be reading this.

Second, buy a brace and wear it every night while you sleep until you are cured, either of your pain or of your passion for knitting.

Third, take an NSAID--you can get these over the counter. I used Motrin. Alleve works, and there are several others. Take an acid-blocker with these, so you don't have serious bleeding problems. These are also available over the counter at your pharmacy, Prilosec OTC, Zantac, etc.

Fourth, use ice on your wrists, hands, arms, wherever it hurts.

I've hesitated for weeks before posting this, because I know the proper response is to see a doctor, and I'm not a doctor. All I know is what worked for me, and I don't know at all if it will work for anyone else.

Here is my experience:

When I began knitting two years ago, my hands hurt some. I was knitting a little, crocheting daily, and not overdoing either. Then I rushed to finish a project for Christmas, knitting about 800 stitches a day, which was a lot for me at the time. At the same time, I was cleaning, staining, and finishing louvered doors. My hands hurt, my wrists ached, but I continued doing what I was doing, working on the doors for a couple of hours and knitting for an hour and a half a day. My persistence in these activities in spite of the pain I was feeling was NOT SMART.

However, it was not fatal (to my knitting, I mean). My research at the time lead me to believe that knitting caused a condition in my arms and hands called "hyperflexibility". While it sounds good, it is not. The hyperflexibility made it easier for me to injure my hands. Normally, I could have painted those doors with no ill effects on my hands. Since I was knitting at the same time, I injured my wrists and forearms when I forced the paintbrush and staining rags into the spaces between the louvers.

AT THE SAME TIME, I was taking Pilates and Yoga classes which involved supporting my weight on my hands in odd positions. ALSO NOT SMART. Did I mention my time on the computer? Oh, let's not even talk about that.

I had shooting pains in my hands, wrists and forearms, and a strange bump on the top of my wrist that was visible when I bent my hand down.

It was time for a doctor's visit. This is what I learned from him:

If you have pain, numbness or tingling in the first three fingers of your hand, (the thumb, the index finger, and the middle finger) the nerves in your wrist are involved, and you may have carpal tunnel syndrome. I didn't have that kind of pain. I had tendonitis. And a ganglion cyst. He said ganglion cysts usually go away on their own. They can be treated if they are painful. Mine was not painful, so I waited and he was right, it went away. It took A YEAR for it to disappear completely.

The tendonitis -- he advised a wrist brace, which I purchased at the drug store, following his instructions to find one that was comfortable and had a stiff metal brace which prevented me from flexing my wrist. I tried on every brace in the store, until I found one I could stand wearing. The pair of them cost about $20.00. I also bought a more flexible one to wear at the computer. And a pair of elastic bands that had thumb straps on them to wear while I knit. (Edit: these were no help--I don't wear braces or supports while I knit.) Later, I bought a set of thumb braces for the DeQuervayn's Syndrome pain I was having at the base of my thumb. and I slept with braces every night (either the stiff metal wrist brace or the thumb brace, depending on what hurt the worst. If I had stopped knitting, my tendonitis symptoms would have been relieved in a couple of weeks. Being me, I continued knitting and had to wear the braces every night for four months. I still wear them now and then when I feel I'm having a lot of pain, but I haven't had to do that for months.

On the pain. It was suprising, how much pain there was. I would have sharp pains in my hands. I had to immobilize them and just wait it out, breathe slowly, and tell myself, it will all be over in ten minutes. It always was.

I threw my crafter's gloves away. They were no help at all. My doctor laughed at them.

Now I have muscles in my wrists and hands that weren't visible before. I can knit for hours each day without pain. I have fatigue, and sometimes some stiffness in the morning, but no pains. I usually knit about 3 hours a day, in 1 hour sessions. I probably average about 2000 stitches output, with breaks, ripping out and all.

I just finished painting the house. The entire outside, and there is very little out there that is brick or stone, so most of the house had to be painted. I wore my braces the first two nights, but didn't need them after that.

I try to be very careful with my hands. I have more than one project on the needles at all time, so I can vary the size needles and the type of yarn; I think variety relieves some of the repetitive motion strain. I take frequent breaks, about every 15 minutes. I limit knitting with inflexible yarn, such as cotton or linen to a few projects a year. I'm sure there are other helpful hints--please add a comment if you know of any!

I'm very fortunate to be able to continue both my hobby and my regular activities. I'm going to be careful, because I want to be able to knit for many more years.


The Gadabout Knitter said...

Amen to the going and seeing a physician! However there would be one thing that I would add to your recommendations (I am not a doctor, so these are only recommendations as well).

When icing, ice for 20 minutes and then off for 20 minutes. If you have ice or cold compress on an area for longer than 20 minutes you can actually end up with the opposite reaction than intended.

Also be very careful when placing ice for extended periods of time on an area like your wrist or elbow because there are nerves that can be damaged. Just be sure that if you get numbness in your fingers or a place that is not covered by the ice goes numb or feels tingly to remove the ice immediately.

xxloublouxx said...

OMG, just read all of this, and I have had exactley the same thing happen to me...

Like you, I love to knit, I also work in an office, typing alot and about 8 months ago I got a bump on my wrist that was visable when i bent my hand down, and every weekend at work my wrist would hurt like crazy and i just thought it was the ganglion. Went the docs and they said it will go away with time...

months later, cyst was still there, but more pain, however only when typing, then it got to the point where it was when i was knitting and now the pain is consistantly there, I was diagnosed with Tendonitis last week and was put on some anti-inflamatries...

My pain is still here and im dying to pick up my needles and start knitting, but after reading this it has definatley cheered me up..Hopefully my pain will go away too :D


MD said...

thanks for the ray of hope - my hands are hurting as type this - other than the cyst, I've got all the symptoms. Acupuncture helps a bit, but only for a few days.I'm going to find some wrist braces and rest a bit.

sheila said...

Just had to laugh at the similarities in our lives! Yoga, painting, computers and knitting and now arm PAIN! yikes. I have seen a DO who did a little manipulation that helped and she suggested icing, which I forget to do! I will keep working on keeping my arm healthy and will look for a brace this week.
Many thanks. Good to know I am not "that" odd...Sheila

Lutheran Mommy said...

Have you found that knitting English rather than Continental helps this?? I have heard that and am going to try English for awhile . . . . I have everything you mentioned, so this was very encouraging.

alicelover said...

I'm a young knitter, (17) and I have the worst pain in my wrists. I knit constantly, but with frequent breaks, however this is the third and the wort time I've had this pain. After a long push to finish Christmas presents, and a night where I knit through my pain (something I NEVER do, because I have weak wrists) my wrists have never felt worse. I've been resting for about 4 days now, and it only seems to be getting more painful. But now I think I'll try a brace. Thank you so much!

Carol said...

I had to laugh about the comments on finishing Christmas projects! I've been knitting A LOT for the past five years with no pain, but I know exactly when my pain started - early this December when I was behind on my Xmas projects and would sometimes get up in the morning and knit all day and into the night in order to finish my precious knitted presents! I knew I was pushing it, but kept going.

Thank you for the wonderful advice. I also just read about putting your arm (hand and forearm several inches above the elbow) into a sink of ice water for 5-10 SECONDS ten times in 2 hours. Continue for one week. I just started today, but hope that it helps, along with the other suggestions.

Therese said...

My favorite night wrist braces are labeled just that: night wrist braces. Ace, Futuro, Mueller, etc. They have a beanbag in the palm to support your hand in a neutral position. Immediate relief.

Another effective tool is square knitting needles. A side benefit is perfectly even stitches and no more tension problems. I was amazed at the difference they made in loosening my grip. Good luck finding them in shops, though!