D'oh - Looks like I've got RSI

In my blog on Saturday I made a casual remark about developing RSI. By Tuesday afternoon I was sitting in the emergency room of a large London hospital

ready for a doctor to conclude that my swollen forearm did indeed look like a nasty case of RSI, probably exacerbated by some gardening on Monday afternoon. I have to say that gardening is not my natural pastime.

How common is RSI amongst knitters? I've only been indulging for a few months, though I have to say that I can spend most of an evening 'at it'. Have many other users experienced this problem?

In conclusion, I think I'll have to five up gardening. Knitting is much more satisfying.


Hey, Britisher!

What you call RSI, commonly known to the yanks as carpal tunnel syndrome, is one of the great lurking fears for people in my profession.

I don't know what other peoples' experience may be, but for my part, I often take up whatever project is at hand and knit a row or two as a way of relaxing my hands after a serious typing session - kind of like a cool down period after exercise.

If anything, I suspect that knitting helps more than it hurts by being a low intensity exercise for those wrist and hand muscles.

RSI is not the same as carpal tunnel syndrome. They have different symptoms, and my friend (who has never knitted or worked at a keyboard or done any repetitive work with her hands) has carpal tunnel syndrom.

I stand corrected.

Tallguy's picture

"I suspect that knitting helps more than it hurts..."
Well, Giltaran, that can very well be; however, anything you do to excess can hurt you.

I am at a keyboard for many hours a day. Several years ago, I was working on a very large lace shawl, and as winter set in, I did nothing except knit. I would knit from early morning until dark on the cold stormy days. It was all in black, so I couldn't see it well enough at night, no matter how strong the lights were. This was a very large project, and I was anxious to get it done.

After about 4 months of constant work, often for 7 or more hours a day of steady knitting, it was completed. And so was I. I had pains in my arms all the time: I couldn't get to sleep because no position I held them helped. Nothing I could do eased the pain. While the pain wasn't intense, it was constant and nagging.

The only solution was to do nothing at all for many weeks until it eased up. And it took a very long time. I know friends that had to wear braces to keep their wrists immobilized so they could heal. The next step would have been surgery.

So now, even 15 or more years later, I still have pain in my wrists and arms. I have to be careful what I do. I can't do these knitting marathons any longer. I can't type for hours on end. I can't spin all the time either.

I've learned to take frequent breaks. I will not do anything for more than 20 minutes at a time. I will work on a couple of things: spin a little, then knit a bit, and then spin with a spindle, then a wheel, and back to knitting, maybe make supper in between, anything to break up the constant repetitive movements which is what caused the damage in the first place.

Be sure you are working correctly. Watch what positions you are sitting in, how you hold your hands, are you making efficient use of every movement.

So this is a warning to any newbie: Don't get carried away! This is a very relaxing activity, granted, but you can over-do anything (ANY-thing). Take it easy... use common sense. Take frequent breaks to do something different. Do less so you can do more (for the rest of your life).

Point well made - moderation matters.

drmel94's picture

Having been on the receiving end of Mama Tallguy's lecture in the past, I strongly encourage paying attention. As with any repetitive motion, knitting can potentially cause problems - particularly if your body is still getting used to moving in such a way. If you pay attention to what your body is telling you and make sure that you give your wrists proper time to heal, you will be knitting for years to come. Also, if you take the time to build up slowly and make yourself take regular breaks to stretch your hands and fingers, you will be less prone to reinjury.

I'd also recommend assessing your tension. It's not unusual for newer knitters to knit very tightly, which puts more strain on the wrists. Try to be mindful of what you're doing and loosen up a bit. If need be, try using smaller needles and knitting more loosely.

For now, though, set everything down and rest until you've healed.

"Hatred does not end by hatred; hatred ends by love. This is the eternal law." - Buddha

dandelion's picture

Sending hope that you heal quickly!