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When Knitting Hurts

Katie wrote:

"I don't understand how knitting can be relaxing. I mean, I understand the repetitive motion and all that, but for me knitting is actually kind of painful. My shoulders and elbows and wrists end up hurting after just a little bit of knitting, especially on big projects. I've been working on a cardigan for a friend since January of last year, all because it hurts to work on 200-plus stitches for so long. Maybe I'm doing something wrong. Any advice would be great. I want to knit afghans and stuff someday!"

Editor's Comments

Thanks for writing, Katie. Most of us (especially those of us who have reached a certain age) will experience some pain from anything we do that involves repetitive motion, but it sounds like your pain is worse than most. Here are a couple of things to try:

  • Use circular needles instead of straight needles. If you're knitting a piece back and forth on straight needles, especially one that has 200-plus stitches, you're carrying a lot of weight on those needles. If you use a circular needle as if it were two straight needles, i.e., knitting back and forth, and not in the round, when the piece gets to a certain length, the bulk of the knitting will rest in your lap as you work and you'll experience less arm fatigue.
  • Stop and stretch. Stop every 15 minutes or so and stand up. Roll your shoulders back and forth a few times. Bring your hands up over your head, hold one wrist with the opposite hand and pull your arm gently over to the side for a nice big stretch; repeat this on the other side. Clasp your hands, and with your fingers facing you, push your hands as far out in front of you as you can, flexing your fingers and your wrists.
  • Knit with smaller needles. You may not want to hear this if you're a fan of big yarn and big needles, but the smaller the needles and yarn, the smaller the motion, and therefore, the less the strain on your body.
  • Learn a new way of knitting. This is certainly the most challenging remedy, but as mentioned above, the less you have to move to manipulate your yarn, the less your muscles and tendons will be affected. Are you knitting English style, wherein you hold the yarn in your right hand and "throw" it around the needle to make a stitch? Observe that movement. If you're letting go of the right needle in order to carry the yarn, you're making a very large movement.

    Try limiting the motion by wrapping the yarn around your middle finger and just moving the finger forward to wrap the yarn instead of moving your whole hand, and therefore, your whole arm. The other alternative would be to teach yourself to knit Continental style, holding the yarn in your left hand and moving the right needle forward to "pick" the yarn and thereby wrapping it around the needle to make a stitch -- this requires the least movement of all. It's not easy to retrain yourself to a new method, but it can be done.

I hope that a combination of these techniques will help you find the Zen of knitting, and that you'll find both the therapeutic and meditative qualities of knitting that so many of us enjoy!
-- Judith

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