Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Hands: You only get one set. If you're lucky.

Due to a question in the comments yesterday, I'm worried now that I'm sort of misleading you guys on how you're supposed to care for your hands. So guess what this post is about?

Here's the rule. PAIN BAD. If your knitting causes tingling, or pins and needles, or numbness, or pain, take a break. Period. Pay attention to how you hold yourself when you're knitting, and fix any problems - I tend to hitch my shoulders up weirdly and they get stiff, so I work consciously at relaxing them, or sit in a way that keeps me from hunching up. You've got to do that kind of thing if you plan to knit long-term. (I could also make a comment here about how knitting German style with the yarn in the left hand is more ergonomically friendly than knitting English style with the yarn in the right, but someone will get mad, so I'm not gonna say it. Nope. Not me.) I also suggest sitting in a comfortable seat with good light, but I realize that reality doesn't work that way.

For beginners, remember, knitting is like any other physical activity. You've gotta build up to it. You're using muscles in ways you never have before, so to sit down and use those muscles for twelve hours straight is not good. Would you run for 12 hours straight? Not unless you worked up to it in a big way. If you did suddenly decide to run for 12 hours, you'd develop many of the same cramping, tingling, owie problems in your legs, as you get in your fingers from knitting like that. (When I went back to knitting after a year off to have the baby, I could only knit for about fifteen minutes at a time. I had to build up to it.) Muscle fatigue, that good tiredness you get after a workout, is fine. Anything more than that is not.

When the pain starts, STOP KNITTING. Take a break (a real break, not a quick run to the john), run some hot water over your hands (increases circulation), and kind of wiggle them around to loosen up everything. Slowly build up how long you knit, until you can maintain for longer amounts of time. These stories you hear/read about historic knitters doing crazy things like knitting a pair of socks a day or a Fair-Isle sweater in three days? Those were done by women who'd been knitting since early childhood and were used to it. (Not to mention they had different priorities - they were knitting stuff for sale so they could EAT.) Once you've knit steadily for a couple-five years, you can do the all-day knitathon too. (Though I'm not convinced it's good for you.) You've got to BUILD UP. Think marathon running. Same idea.

If anyone's gotten the idea from reading here that knitting through pain is okay, it's because I have nerve damage in my hand that causes pain for no good reason, all the time. Even then, if I can tell the difference between fatigue and nerve weirdness, I will take breaks from knitting or typing or whatever I'm doing. And I get sent to a hand specialist every few years for a checkup to make sure I'm not ignoring something important. So I'm (as usual, it seems), a weird case. Don't follow my example unless your doctor says it's okay. Seriously.

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled sarcasam. I think I've found the Ohio photos. (Bells, I took pics of the neighborhood for you.) And I caught the husbeast sitting under my full-spectrum light looking at my Bendigo Wool color card last night and snapped a picture. Hahaha.

10 comments:

Dana said...

Excellent post. Very well said. Or you could be an idiot like me and spend thousands on chiropractic and a massage chair to counter the effects of knitting gone wild.

Amy Lane said...

Yeah...you don't want to know what it took for me to stop popping motrin and actually stop and STRETCH my neck when I'd been knitting too long... good post:-)

Bells said...

all good advice. I've started seeing a chiropractor this week and she says no more 2 hour sessions of sitting in one place knitting. I don't know why I do that. I don't do that at work, so why would I do it at home?

Sheepish Annie said...

All excellent points! I switched to continental knitting a number of years ago because it just "felt" better to me than english. That's just me, though. Everyone needs to work the yarn in the way that suits them.

Spinning helps, too. If the knitting gets too ouchie, then I can just hit the wheel!

Alwen said...

I have a friend who is a blacksmith, and he says the same thing: PAIN BAD. Permanent nerve damage is permanent, whether you get it from bashing hot iron or from holding your body in one position too long.

Luckily for me, holding my hands up and tatting is about the same position as knitting, so once I quit lifting my left arm up and giving myself charlie horses in my neck! OW! I was mostly good.

Oh, yeah, and getting downsized out of my full time on the computer job had the side benefit of finally letting my wrists heal, yay!

lishajeanne said...

Thanks for addressing my problem. I guess I need to pay more attention to the way I am sitting so I don't get numb again. How would you suggest making a switch in the way one holds their yarn? Creature of habit and all--me no like change.

Bells said...

lishajeanne - I recently learned two handed knitting so I could knit with two colours at once. It just took practice. Do swatches. Over and over. It took me about a week to adjust. Find some good online tutorials, follow them and then just swatch til the cows come home. You'll get there.

Louiz said...

Yep, this is why I don't crochet anymore. Take breaks, even a 5 min break, every hour if you're doing a marathon session (when i spoke to someone who knows about this, he suggested 50 mins work, 10 mins break, whether it is desk work, knitting or cooking, so long as you are used to it). Maybe I should take longer breaks too...

Mary Lynn said...

Generally, my hands tingle all the time, but it is not all directly related to knitting (as much as I wish it were). I am at a keyboard on average eight hours a day.

As to Continental v. English, I do both but have pretty much switched to strictly Continental because there is substantially less tingling and pain.

I strongly agree on the fact that you need to take substantial breaks. It isn't just your hands and arms but it can impact your back and hips. What a silly thing.

For anyone interested in Continental, pick up Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting Without Tears, all is wonderfully explained and diagrammed.

Maggie said...

As an occupational therapist, who had to make herself a splint for DeQuervains, I would also recommend Ice. Ice is good because a lot of the pain you get from knitting is that your muscles and tendons and simply getting two large for their compartments, ie: we didn't really evolve to knit, so those muscles are not meant to get that strong. Julie is 100% right though, the best thing you can do is rest the muscles.