How to Manage and Avoid Pain While Knitting and Crocheting

Written by Rebecca Krause

Meet the Maker

I’m Becca, a physical therapist and avid knitter/crocheter currently residing in Maryland. I grew up in the
midwest and pursued my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Washington University in St. Louis.
After graduation, I started working at an outpatient orthopedic facility where I treat individuals of all ages
with pretty much any musculoskeletal (muscle and bone) injury or pain. My current passions include
treating the injured runner (I was a collegiate cross country/track athlete, as well!) and helping
creatives/makers with their pain. Unfortunately I don’t see many of these individuals in the clinic, but this
opportunity from Kalley has allowed me to put pen to paper on a lot of things I’ve been thinking to help
educate and heal others. It is my hope that in reading this blog post you learn a little more about how and
why certain pains arise as well as how to manage and prevent them in the future.

Pains & how to help

To start, I want to explain a few terms that are used throughout this post and what I mean when using
them. By pain, I am referring to an acute or sharp sensation which is your body’s way of saying “stop.”
Soreness is an aching sensation you feel when your muscles are tired (like if you did too many squats and
it hurts to sit down the next day). Tight is meant to describe either a stiff sensation (like when you sleep in
a weird position and your neck doesn’t want to move a certain way) or the feeling of having a knot in
your muscle.


I have always been looking for a way to meld my day job to my craft, so I’m here to explain some common
postures we tend to fall into while creating, and ways to correct them to prevent injury or increased stress
on the body.


Cervical (Neck)


Your neck plays a big role in the creative process. Whether you are holding a project on your lap or
reading/writing a pattern, your neck muscles are working to hold your head up. One of the most common
positions we can fall into when we are sitting for prolonged periods of time is the forward head posture (left).

This position shortens the suboccipital muscles that run from the base of your skull to your
cervical vertebrae (right. These muscles are often associated with headaches if they become tight or
irritated. They respond well to self-massage, so if they are tight you can gently press on them with your
fingertips to try to get them to relax.

One exercise you can integrate into your daily routine is called a chin tuck, which can be performed laying down or sitting up. I like to describe the motion as trying to give yourself a double chin or if you were a turtle trying to bring your head back into your shell. You should be bringing your chin straight backwards (not down towards your chest) and feel a gentle stretch in the back of your upper neck, approximating your skull.

This exercise will also help strengthen your deep cervical neck flexors that can become long and weak with prolonged forward head posture. I recommend trying to hold this tucked position for about 5 seconds and then relaxing, performing anywhere from 5 to 20 repetitions.

Shoulders

Your shoulders and all of the muscles surrounding them are essential in creating, whether it be to perform
small movements to carry a yarn over, or holding your project up as it grows in length and weight. When
knitting or crocheting for long periods of time in a seated position, we tend to round forwards through our
shoulders. This causes various muscles in the chest and neck to tighten. To alleviate sinking into this
posture, pillows can be used to provide support to your arms. They can be placed in a variety of places,
but usually on the lap and under the armpits is a good place to start.

If you have low back pain, you can also place a pillow in the small of your back to help give the muscles in that area a little more support. One exercise you can integrate into your daily routine is called scapular retractions. Sitting up
straight with your shoulders relaxed, try to squeeze your scapulae (shoulder blades) together while
thinking about gently bringing them down (you don’t want your shoulders to approximate your ears). I typically have my patients hold this position for 5 seconds and perform anywhere from 10-20 repetitions.

Another posture to avoid while creating is elevating your shoulders towards your ears. This tightens your
upper trapezius muscle (runs from the back of your skull to the top of your shoulder) which can result in
pain in this area. To stretch this muscle, sit up straight with your shoulders relaxed and bring one of your
ears towards your shoulder making sure to keep your nose pointed forwards. You should feel a stretch on
the opposite side of your neck spanning anywhere from just underneath your ear to the top of your
shoulder. I typically recommend holding this position for up to 30 seconds at a time and performing up to
3 repetitions on each side.


Wrists and Hands

Acknowledging the obvious, your wrists and hands are the primary workhorses when you are creating.
The hands are very complex, consisting of 27 bones and over 30 muscles that work together to help move
the fingers into complex contortions for various stitches, etc. Because our hands are so complex, I’ve
decided to break up this section into explaining the positions of the hands and wrists, common muscles
that can get sore or overworked, and ways to stretch and reposition to optimize movement and comfort
while limiting excess stress and future injury.

Your wrist joint can move in four different directions. If you picture your palm facing the floor: bending
your wrist downward is flexion, bending your wrist upward is extension, moving your thumb towards
your forearm is radial deviation, and finally moving your pinky toward your forearm is ulnar deviation.
Keeping your wrist bent in any of these manners for prolonged periods of time can cause increased
tension in the wrist and lead to pain. The optimal position for your wrist when creating is in neutral or just
a slight amount of extension.

A variety of muscles in the hand work to move the thumb in different ways and are active in certain
scenarios. One of these muscles is the adductor pollicis, which is active when bringing your thumb
towards your index finger (when tightly gripping yarn/knitting needles/crochet hook). Another is the
opponens pollicis which is active when you bring your thumb towards your pinky (can also be active with
tight grip of your project/tool). Finally, the flexor pollicis longus and brevis are active when you are
bending the joints of your thumb to grip. Most of these muscles reside in your palm in the space between
your thumb and wrist. This area can often be sore due to over-activation of these muscles and responds well to self-massage techniques. Naturally, our fingers are flexed (bent at the joints) when holding onto
projects/yarn or whatever it is you are working on. In order to stretch these muscles, you can think about
extending your fingers backwards until you feel a gentle stretch on the palm side of your fingers.

The primary movers of the wrist are actually located in your forearm. The muscles sit near your elbow
and the tendons extend down into your fingers. The wrist flexors are located on the palm side of your
forearm, or palmar aspect in anatomical terms. The wrist extensors are located on the same side of your
forearm as the back of your hand, or the dorsal aspect in anatomical terms. If we maintain a position of
prolonged wrist flexion or extension while creating, either of these groups of muscles can become tight. A
good way to stretch these muscles is to hold a position of wrist flexion/extension for up to 30 seconds,
ensuring to bend the wrist until you feel a gentle stretch in your forearm and not pain.

The body is amazing and complex, and made up of so many intricate structures. I have barely touched the
surface here, but hope that this information helps you understand how certain parts of your body move,
and why maintaining certain positions for long periods of time can have impacts on how you feel.

A good way to integrate this information into your daily routine is to set a timer on your phone/watch for every
25-30 minutes to check in on your body and the position of your joints. Where do you feel tension? Where
do you feel stress? Take a few seconds to think about this and maybe perform a few stretches to reset
prior to getting back to your work.

The information presented in this blog post is primarily targeted towards knitters/crocheters and all
artists alike; however, most of it is equally as relevant with any task that requires prolonged sitting or
prolonged postures such as working at a desk or driving for long periods of time.

While what I have presented addresses some common problems experienced by knitters and crocheters,
these recommendations cannot be considered a substitute for being seen in person by a physical therapist
or primary care physician. Individual evaluation is essential to most precisely address the unique needs of
each person. If you are experiencing severe pain or limitations, I strongly encourage you to seek out
this form of care.

Links…

You can find Becca on Instagram as well as shop in her Etsy shop!


To learn about knitting mindfully, click here!

Leave a Reply

3 Comments

  1. 8.17.21
    Marg said:

    Nice article, I haven’t been able to get any free patterns, too much to go thru, I am unsubscribing. Marg

    • 8.17.21
      Kalley said:

      Thanks for the feedback. Take care.

  2. 8.24.21
    Maggie Tupman said:

    This is a super helpful article with some extremely useful ideas!
    Thanks,
    Maggie