Knitting as much as I do can cause pain and inflammation from all the repetitive movements. Compound that with all those chaturangas I'm doing during yoga class and you have a recipe for wrist injury! A couple years ago I started experiencing sharp pains in my wrists whenever I put any amount of weight on them, like when I would do plank pose during yoga class. I went to see an orthopedist who prescribed steroids to reduce inflammation. They kind of helped for a while, but once I resumed my normal knitting and yoga routine, the pain flared back up again. I considered going back on the steroids but I wasn't crazy about all the side effects and didn't see it as a long term solution. I figured my options were either to stop knitting or stop practicing yoga. I mean, you may as well suggest I stop breathing oxygen! I talked to my favorite yoga teacher (and Ragline Knits Co-founder) Liza Laird, about my chronic wrist pain and she suggested a few things I could do to help improve my posture while knitting. I also identified a couple bad knitting habits that were wreaking havoc on my wrists, neck and shoulders without me even noticing it. A few months after implementing my modified knitting practice, my wrist pain resolved AND my knitting improved! Here's what I did to get there:
1. Take breaks every 20 minutes
This is something I have heard Liza suggest to so many people but, for some reason, I never actually thought to try it. Well it works, people! When you sit down to knit, set an alarm on your phone for every 20 minutes to remind you to take a break. I would usually just get up and take care of some random chore, like letting the dogs out, folding laundry, or loading the dishwasher. The key is to just do something to break up those repetitive movements and reset your body. If you can do some wrist and neck stretches during your break, even better.
2. How are you holding your yarn?
Experiment with different ways of holding your working yarn so you reduce the tension on your wrists and hands. For me, this was the single most important thing I did to improve my wrist pain. It felt weird at first, kind of like writing with your non-dominant hand, but I ended up making the transition surprisingly quickly. When I first started knitting, I held the yarn between my thumb and index finger. I found this was the best way to control the tension of my stitches, but it also yielded a really tight fabric. This didn't cause any problems at first, but as I spent more and more time knitting, my hands and wrists began to suffer. Now I hold my yarn by wrapping it around my index finger twice when knitting and three times when purling. Since purl stitches tend to be looser, by wrapping the yarn around my finger one extra time, I achieve equal tension for both my knit and purl stitches. This minor adjustment to my knitting has improved the quality of my knitting and, more importantly, reduced the pain in my hands and wrists.
3. Mind your shoulders
If I'm working on a complicated stitch pattern, or a super skinny yarn, I notice over the course of my knitting my shoulders end up somewhere around my ears. NOT GOOD! Check in with yourself every so often to make sure your shoulders are relaxed. Try rolling the heads of your arm bones up, back, and down. Allow your shoulder blades to move down and into your back. After a few rolls take a deep breath and start knitting again with your shoulders back down where they should be!
4. What's your lighting situation?
This is actually the easiest thing you can do to improve your posture. Have you ever been sooo into your knitting that you didn't notice the sun has set and you're holding your needles 3 inches from your face so you can see your stitches? Well, I have! Not only is this not good for your eyes, but holding up and stabilizing the weight of your work close to your face puts a lot of strain on your upper body. I bought the Mighty Bright floor lamp with a magnifier and my life has never been the same. Because of the magnifier, I am able to keep my shoulders relaxed and knit with my hands resting in my lap. If I am working with a super chunky yarn and I have plenty of light, I don't need it.
5. How are you seated?
In a perfect world, I'd be sitting at a table with my feet on the floor and a perfectly straight back.... but let's be honest, 99% of the time I'm knitting on the couch curled up with my dogs! To prevent myself from hunching over my knitting (hello neck pain!), I sit Indian style on top of a block. This helps keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed as well as open up the hips. If you don't have yoga blocks or a bolster, try sitting on top of a couple firm pillows or folded up towels with your legs folded or stretched out in front of you.
6. Stretch it out!
Remember to stretch out those arms and wrists! Watch our quick video to learn some easy stretches and add them to your knitting routine.