Are your hands hurting when you are knitting? Knitting shouldn’t be painful. Full stop. If you experience pain it is tempting to deal only with symptoms – use supports, finger thimbles or even latex gloves. While all these might bring relief, they usually don’t address the root cause of pain. Of course there are people who knit through underlining medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or injuries – I’m not talking about such situations. I’m talking about perfectly average hands, arms and shoulders with no problems which require treatment. While I deeply dislike the expression “knitting wrong”, if your knitting is hurting, something clearly isn’t working for you. It doesn’t matter that a specific way of knitting works for your friend, mother in law or even your knitting teacher – if it hurts something needs to change so you can enjoy your hobby. Here are some very common issues which cause knitting pain:
“Tip tapping” is a habit of pushing the tip of the needle with your index finger or your thumb to prevent the yarn falling off when pulling it through the existing stitch. Tip tapping is a bad habit in any technique and with the advent of learning using Internet many knitters don’t even realise they are doing it. If you watch YouTube tutorials, it is one of the most common habits. Yes, it may be temporarily effective on blunt tips of large needles you may be using as a beginner, but if you progress to smaller sizes and sharper needles – ouch! If you have swollen and tender tips of fingers and regularly feel like you are stabbing yourself, try to experiment with various other methods of getting the yarn through the loop without touching the tip. Ideally, try to find a local yarn store with classes, a knitting teacher or an experienced colleague or mentor to show you how to get rid of the habit. The bandaids, thimbles, latex gloves and other inventive methods of protecting the finger tips may offer immediate relief but will not address the root cause.
“The poke”: this is my own term, describing the habit of holding the left index finger stiffly away from work when using continental method. Often the index finger pain follows, along some strain in the left hand. If this is what seems to be happening, the cure is very simple: relax the finger and try to keep it soft, bent just a little, much closer to the left needle. Holding the finger closer to the work will have the additional benefit of shortening the wrapping or picking movement, making it both easier on the hands and faster.
“Knitter’s wrist” is often caused by a painful habit of overexaggerating the circular movements of knitting, making them larger than necessary. If you find yourself with otherwise healthy but tired and sore wrists, focus on the movement you make when wrapping or picking the yarn. If your movements are too large, you are likely giving yourself a repetitive strain injury. Relax the wrists, work on shortening the movements and stabilising the wrists so you don’t rotate them or rotate very little when knitting. Let the fingers do more work, wrists and forearms – less. If you are unable to reduce the wrist movements and you use English wrapping method (you have the yarn on the right and wrap the yarn around the right needle to pull it through the loop), try flicking or one of Continental methods to check if that will help.
“Weightlifters elbow”: Another problem may be the weight of the knit with time putting pressure on the wrists, forearms and elbows. If you find yourself with heavy work at the ends of straight needles, switch to circular needles and let the bulk of your knit sit on your lap when knitting.
“Purling thumb”: Some continental knitters use a circular thumb motion to assist with getting the yarn through the loop while purling. While most do not experience resulting pain, it is a move which can cause discomfort. If you are one of the people who hate continental purling due to thumb pain, look at purl alternatives, for instance German, Norwegian or Russian purl. There are many ways of purling in continental knitting and it’s worth exploring the alternatives.
“The weight of the world on your shoulders”: When we do something which requires a lot of focus and attention we often tense up, lift the shoulders and lean forward. With time this position can result in shoulder and back pain. If knitting feels like you need a good massage or a hot bath afterwards, take frequent breaks, roll your shoulders and make sure they drop down. Also, as with any repetitive activity, exactly like working on an office computer, check your knitting work station and make sure it’s comfortable and you have support where you need it – it may be behind your lower back, neck or arms. Take time to experiment and find out what works for you, helping you in knitting in a relaxed and painless position.
“Death grip”: Many knitters feel that the only way to control the tension is to grab the needles and yarn and hold on for dear life. The tight grip inevitably causes discomfort or pain. If putting the needle into the working stitch and getting the yarn through is a challenge because the loop is too tight, you suffer from death grip. The way to make your stitches tighter is not to pull the yarn with mighty strength while you are working on them, you do need some slack to work the needle through. Smaller stitches are achieved on smaller needles instead, while keeping the yarn flowing softly and evenly. The yarn should feel like a soft stream flowing around your fingers, not like a rope strangling them. Knitters achieve good tension control by variety of means but pulling the yarn with significant strength and battling to fit the needle into the working stitch is not one of them. In fact, one of the methods gentlest on the hands I ever used is Russian knitting. Tension control in this method is minimal, the yarn flows loosely inside the left palm, and the even tension itself is achieved by precise, small movement of picking up the stitches with the right hand.
“Wilting hands”: General muscle fatigue is very common when knitting for longer periods. It may not feel like it, but knitting is quite an intensive excercise which requires some strength and resilience, especially when doing it for longer periods. Take care of your hands as you would of your general physical condition, make sure you stretch and strengthen the muscles, take regular breaks to shake off the fatigue and don’t push your hands to work harder than they are able to. Build up your hand strength and resilience over time and give your hands a quick but regular work-out. Here are some ideas of exercises you could use, however if you have any medical condition affecting your hands and arms please discuss any workout or even knitting effort with your doctor or physiotherapist – I’m neither! Also, examine how you knit – large, wide movements in any knitting technique are unnecessary and cause more fatigue. Try to relax and shorten the movements you are using. Again, experimenting with different knitting techniques – and there are many, many ways to knit – is a good idea. What may feel unusual and uncomfortable at first may be the answer to tiredness caused by repeating exactly the same motions over and over.
Do you experience pain when knitting? Do you have any other ways to address the root cause rather than dealing with symptoms? I’d love to hear from you!