How to avoid RSI when knitting

Most available medical advice on RSI is aimed at computer users rather than knitters, but though the terminology may be a little off, the core advice applies to us too! Prevention is better than cure, so let's look at how to minimise the risks of it occurring.

How to avoid RSI continental knitting
  • If you knit all day, make sure your needles, yarn and pattern are positioned so that they cause the least amount of strain to your fingers, hands, wrists, neck and back.
  • Sit with a good posture. Adjust your chair so that your forearms are horizontal with the knitting needles and your eyes are the same height as the top of your computer screen pattern text.
  • If you do a repetitive task like stocking stitch in the round, try to take regular breaks. It is better to take smaller breaks more frequently than just one long break.
  • Regular stretching is also a useful tool. Not only does it limber up those cramped hands and arms, it also forces you to take a break from your knitting.
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Mix up your knitting

It’s also worth trying different styles of knitting to give your fingers, wrists and arms a break from the same old movements.

How to avoid RSI English
English Knitting
How to avoid RSI continental knitting
Continental knitting
How to avoid RSI Portugeuse knitting
Portugeuse knitting

 

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Know your triggers

So, say you tried your best to avoid RSI, but have had it anyway, have properly rested, and are using the preventative advice to avoid a relapse. Is there anything else you can do?

Watch out for triggers. It may be knitting that set off your RSI in the first place, but it might not be knitting that causes a relapse. Factors which can contribute to the return of RSI include:

  • Repetition of a particular stitch. In my case, purl stitch done with the yarn in the right hand always sets it off, so I learnt to purl in the Continental style.
  • Use of certain needles. Circular needles can help because the weight of the knitting is carried on the wire (as opposed to straight needles, where you are lifting the weight of the knitting in your hands every time you move them). Circular needles can be used to knit flat as well as in the round.
  • Heavy lifting. This can even be as simple as a full carrier bag (where the weight is distributed over a narrow area). Use a well adjusted rucksack instead of a handbag.
  • Computer work. Is your workspace set up properly? Your employer has a duty to help you get it right.
  • Cold weather. Wearing wristwarmers or armwarmers can really help.
  • Sudden knocks. If you have an area that’s prone to inflammation, try to protect it.
  • Pulling on your upper limbs (e.g. lifting a child up from the floor by their hands).
  • Stress. Tension in your muscles will lead to restricted movement. Try yoga or gentle massage. Hot water bottles and warm baths can help, too.

There was a time when RSI wasn’t taken seriously by employers. Thankfully that time has passed, but knitters need to take it seriously too. We hope the above will keep you knitting pain-free for years to come.

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If in doubt, speak to your doctor

We advise that you always speak to your doctor if you believe you are suffering from RSI or any kind of upper limb disorder. Typically, doctors would prescribe anti-inflammatory medication or steroid injections, plus a course of physiotherapy.

Further reading:

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