Wednesday, May 8, 2013

RSI and Knitting Part II

If you missed part one of this series, you can find it here
I am not a doctor. The following are simply a list of things that have worked for me for managing my own pain. Your mileage may vary. Please consult with your physician before starting any kind of treatment plan.

That being said, many of these suggestions are very common treatments, and most were recommended by my mom (former occupational therapy assistant), my chiropractor, and other knitters/crafters suffering from similar ailments.
Okay, so last time we talked about what to do once you're in pain, but how do you keep it from happening in the first place?

Preventing the Pain
1. We've all heard it, but how many of us actually do it? Take a break. The recommendation is usually 15 minutes for every hour spent working. Put down the knitting and go do something else. Take a dance break and "shake it out" as one of my teachers would say. This is also a great time to do some of the exercises listed in #7.

2. Look at the way you knit. Is there a way you can economize your movements? For example, if you're a picker like me, are you sending several inches of your right hand needle into each stitch, rather than just the tip? Can you make smaller movement with your left hand?

3. Learn a new style of knitting. If you knit continental, learn English and vice versa. Look at Peruvian knitting. If a specific movement is what is causing you pain, see if there's a way around it. For me, purling is difficult,  so I learned a couple of different purls, and also how to knit backwards, which really helps, and then I found a way to get purl stitches in the same manner.

4. Look at your tools. Instead of using big, cumbersome straight needles, try using circulars for larger projects (or just in general). I know that I can only have 1 project at a time on needles smaller than a US4, because that fine detail work will get to me after a while.

5. Look at your yarn. Vegetable fibers and most acrylics have every little give, which is hard on hands. Work with natural fibers whenever possible. Wool is best, but alpaca and angora can be good, too, and don't forget to look at blends. Bamboo and milk fiber are other good options for those with animal allergies/vegan knitters. Stay away from cotton and linen except in blends where they make up 50% or less of the yarn. Silk is also best when blended.
5B. Along those lines, I mentioned spinning. If you learn to spin your own yarns, you can control the twist and therefore affect the elasticity of the final product. Also look at indie dyers/spinners on Etsy, since many of them are willing to adjust fiber contents or make a yarn thicker, thinner, or more/less spun to meet their customers needs. It never hurts to ask.

6. As I said, I tried knitting with wrist braces, but they restricted movement way too much, so I made these. They are intended to be quite tight (but not so snug that they cut off circulation!) and that provides both support and warmth which helps keep fingers and wrists nimble. NOTE: These are made a quite a dense gauge. If you are in pain, these are NOT a good project to work on. Save it for when you are feeling better.

7. Lastly, exercises. Here are a few of my favorites:

A. As soon as my wrists start to feel fatigued, I put my hands together in front of me “prayer style” (palms together, fingers skyward. Then I slowly lower my hands until my elbows and wrists are all in a straight line and hold for 20 seconds. This stretches those muscles and helps relieve the tension.

B. To strengthen those muscles, push ups are the best solution I’ve found. If you can’t do a full push up on the floor, then any time you’re waiting on the microwave or for water to boil, just lean against the counter and do 10-20 from a standing position.

C. Another one that is great for not just wrists but also your shoulders and back is to clasp your hands behind your back, weaving your fingers together, palms out. Reach back and up as far as you can while slowly bending forward at the waist. Make sure you keep your back and neck straight, and don't go any further forward than a 90 degree angle.

D. Lastly, sit at the kitchen table or at your desk, and lay your arm on the table palm down. Now starting with your thumb, raise each finger one by one and put it back down. This will help keep any RSI from going into your elbows, since when you have it in your wrists you tend to overcompensate by using other muscles.

Don't push so hard that it hurts; you should just feel a slight tension on the muscles. Hold it there, and then try again in a few minutes. The goal isn't to rip out any knots; it's just to loosen things up a bit so that they'll ease themselves out on their own.

Yoga also helps, if you are into that. I’ve found the downward facing dog is the best for my wrists, but dance pose, warrior, and triangle are also great for knitters since they stretch your back and shoulders.

Do you have an RSI? What works for you?

This series was the result of a reader request. Is there something you want my opinion/thoughts/suggestions on? Let me know!

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