8 Ways to minimise the risk of repetitive strain injury whilst knitting.

Posted on March 07 2018

Looking after your health whilst knitting - a blog post from The Knitter's Yarn


I have written a lot about the health benefits of knitting but in this newsletter I am going to discuss the potential health 'hazards' of knitting and how to try to avoid them.

For the past week I have had to completely rest my hands as I have had a RSI brought on by a combination of over-gripping my golf clubs and doing too much knitting! For many years, I have always had some knitting on the go to help me 'switch off' in the evenings. However, since starting The Knitter's Yarn, I have often been knitting into the early hours to meet deadlines. For the past couple of weeks my fingers have felt a bit stiff, particularly on my left hand, and I didn't think too much about it, putting the stiffness down to age and the thought that I was getting a touch of arthritis. On Monday, I was waiting at St James's hospital from 9.30am until 7.30pm.........fortunately, I had taken some knitting with me. Unfortunately, such a long, unbroken stint of knitting was the final straw and when I got back home I realised the pain was not just a touch of 'old age' creeping up, but I had given myself a Repetitive Strain Injury.

So, how do you develop RSI and what can you do to prevent it?

RSI occurs when the muscles and tendons in your wrists and fingers become strained by repeated movement. The damaged muscles contract, reducing their range of movement and, at the same time, the sheaths housing your tendons can lose their lubrication causing rubbing.

The main indicators of RSI include:
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Cramp
  • Aches and pain
  • Tingling
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Swelling
I thought that the best course of action was to work through the pain but that is the worse thing to do! If you experience any of the above before, during or after knitting do not ignore the is important to REST. Stop knitting right away and put an ice pack on the affected area. Ibuprofen may also help but if in any doubt go and see your doctor.

Knitters suffering from RSI tend to have problems in their wrists, backs, hands, necks or any combination. Such problems can be caused by sitting for too long using poor posture, gripping the needles too tightly or putting too much weight on wrists when working large projects.

Like most things, prevention is better than cure so here are some suggestions to avoid or minimise the risk of RSI:
  1. MODERATION - I came to the conclusion many years ago that it was best to 'enjoy everything in moderation.' Unfortunately, I seem unable to adopt this principle for either golf or knitting. However, this past week has made me determined to learn to relax my grip on both my golf clubs and my knitting needles.  I am now going to take regular breaks when knitting by setting a timer and having a 15 minute break after 45 minutes of knitting. This will give me chance to do some hand stretches, make a cup of tea or refill my wine glass! It is also important to drink plenty of water whilst knitting - take a sip after a couple of rows which will not only keep you hydrated but which will also give you time to reassess your posture.
  2. POSTURE - It is not only your hands and wrists that can suffer from too much knitting. The other main areas to look after are your neck and shoulders. Fortunately, I am well aware that I tend to hold a lot of tension in these areas and so I deliberately think about relaxing my shoulders so they are not up around my ears! It is very easy, when trying to finish a project, to tense up and hunch over your work. Remember, whenever you are sitting, to ensure you are supporting your back properly with your feet flat on the floor. 
  3. KNITTING STYLES - I mainly knit in the 'English' style although alternative styles include Continental, Portuguese and Irish Cottage style knitting. It may be worthwhile alternating knitting styles on different projects to give some variety to the way your hands move. I have yet to get sufficiently proficient in the other knitting methods to keep my knitting tension consistent - however, they are fascinating to watch on YouTube!
  4. AVOID TENSION - Listen to your body. Whilst it is relatively easy to notice when the big muscles in your neck and shoulders are tense, you also need to take notice of the smaller muscles in your hands, fingers and thumbs. This is certainly something I am now more aware of, as it is my left hand which has the pain and yet this is the hand which does the least movement. I must be holding more tension in the fingers and joints on that hand than I had realised.
  5. NEEDLES - Personally, I use circular needles for all of my projects and they offer lots of benefits including better distribution of weight especially with those larger projects which use chunky yarn. The weight sits centrally, resting on your lap rather than your arms taking the strain. Some people swear by the Cubics range of needles from KnitPro which are square shaped.
  6. SMALL AND EFFICIENT MOVEMENTS - Slow down your knitting and stay relaxed. Keep your movements small by keeping the working yarn close to the tip of your needles. Also,think of your hand, wrist and fingers as a single unit so that they work together.
  7. EYE STRAIN - Always reduce eye strain by working in good light (natural light lamps are excellent for colour work)and keep altering your focal distance frequently to exercise the eyes.
  8. WEIGHT GAIN - Knitting is a very sedentary occupation and whilst it may mean less snacking because your hands and mind are occupied, it is important to get up and move around. Going for a walk in the fresh air clears the mind and ensures you get a break between knitting sessions to give your body a rest which in turn, will help avoid potential problems from RSI.

Some ideas for exercising include:
  • Shoulders - Tense your shoulders and bring them up to your ears and then relax your shoulders letting them drop to their correct position without any tension in them. Repeat a couple of times.
  • Neck - Simple neck exercises include stretching your neck each side trying to get your ear onto your shoulder; gently rotating your neck clockwise and anti-clockwise.
  • Wrists - At the end of each row or every couple of rows, rotate your wrists once clockwise and once anti-clockwise.
  • Hands - Squeeze and release a small rubber ball a few times to relax and ease the tension in your hands and fingers. For more stretches click here.

RSI Prevention:
  • REST your hands! Take frequent regular breaks.
  • MOVE your body....knitting can mean sitting in the same position for long periods of time. Get up, walk around and do something else for a break.
  • LISTEN to your body! Don't continue and hope the pain will go away on its probably won't and you will end up doing even more damage.
  • STRETCH! Shoulders, arms, wrists, fingers, neck and back.

RSI Home Treatment - R.I.C.E. for inflammation and strains.
  • Rest!
  • Ice! 
  • Compression!
  • Elevation!
and, if in doubt, as mentioned earlier, go and see your doctor.
Whilst it has been a nuisance not knitting for nearly a week, researching the connection between knitting and RSI has made me reassess the way I work and I intend to put my new awareness into practice in the future. 

Although I have been unable to knit, I have used my time productively and I have uploaded some new kits onto our website including several Erika Knight patterns. Her Studio Linen is a fantastic yarn for Spring/Summer and below are just some examples of the new kits available. Simply choose your style, size and colour and your kit will arrive with everything required to complete your project.


Footloose Sweater designed by Erika Knight for her Gossypium Cotton and available as a kit from The Knitter's Yarn.
Footloose in Erika Knight's Gossypium Cotton
Ravello designed by Erika Knight and knitted in her Studio Linen. Knitting kit available from The Knitter's Yarn.
Ravello in Erika Knight's Studio Linen
Haiku designed by Erika Knight and knitted in her Studio Linen.  Knitting kit available from The Knitter's Yarn.
Haiku in Erika Knight's Studio Linen
Caravan designed by Erika Knight and knitted in her Gossypium Cotton. Available in a knitting kit from The Knitter's Yarn.
Caravan in Erika Knight's Gossypium Cotton

We enjoyed our first 'Learn to Crochet' workshop with Melanie Boocock today, so thank you to all the ladies who came along and made it another enjoyable event.

We have changed the date of our Professional Finishing Workshop to 30th April and this is a great class for all knitters looking to give their knitted fabric a professional finish. Learn how to attain the correct tension; shaping techniques; professional buttonholes; picking up stitches; blocking/pressing techniques and sewing together with invisible mattress stitch seams.Take your knitting to the next level and have fun learning how.

Tuition for the day is just £55 which includes a light lunch and refreshments throughout the session.The workshops take place in our lovely studio on the outskirts of Harrogate. If you are interested in joining us then please book here.

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