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knitting and carpal tunnel

Knitting and Carpal Tunnel: 10 Ways to Feel Better

Carpal tunnel syndrome has been quite the ordeal for me over the last year. It forced me to slow down and to recognize that maybe, just maybe, I can’t push my body to do whatever the hell I want whenever the hell I want.

What I find most distressing is how prevalent it is in our culture. So many of my co-workers have wrist and hand issues, and almost every crafter I know too!

I am NOT a doctor, so please only listen and act on an actual doctor’s advice if you have carpal tunnel … but I do want to share what has helped ME greatly improve my life over the last year. Please remember this is entirely anecdotal, and that I caught my carpal tunnel early and started taking action fast.

1. See a Doctor and Get Occupational Therapy

First, make sure what you have is actually carpal tunnel syndrome! And, assuming it is, don’t be afraid to ask for occupational therapy!

My doctor had offered it as optional, but I’m really glad I went on the advice of a friend (who’d recently had surgery for her carpal tunnel). She regretted not starting occupational therapy earlier, and I decided to learn from her mistake. I went to occupational therapy weekly for three months. Now that my pain has significantly lessened, I do what I call “at home” occupational therapy for an hour every week.

First, I use heating pads on my shoulder and wrist for twenty minutes. Then I do twenty minutes of all the exercises my occupational therapist taught me, like using a hand exerciser, plus some yoga. Then I ice my shoulder and wrist for 20 minutes. While it can be tedious, I always feel better afterwards.

2. Try Topical Pain Relievers

For whatever reason, I really resisted using these at first. Denial perhaps? Now I simply can’t live without them!

Personally, I’m obsessed with Tiger Balm. Because it’s so effective, a little bit goes a long way — and it’s so cheap! It can be a little messy, though, so I usually only use it at home. I keep BioFreeze at work since it’s a bit cleaner.

I also just started using arnica gel at night before bed and so far I really love it!

3. Wrist Braces

Wear it whenever you can/want to keep your wrist in a neutral position. I find it most helpful when I’m driving and when I’m sleeping. I quickly discovered that I twist my wrists in all kinds of silly and ridiculous positions while sleeping. I want my weird wrist contortions to be worth it and at least produce a sweater, so I wear wrist braces on both my wrists at night.

These are the braces I have found to be the most comfortable and durable: 

Mueller Fitted Wrist Left, Black, Small/Medium
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4. Meditation and Yoga

knitting and carpal tunnel

I do meditation and yoga every morning for 20 minutes. This seemed completely crazy to me — I’ve been taking yoga and meditation classes for the last 15 years, why would I need more? — but now that I’ve finally committed, it’s a life-changer.

I’ll admit though, only daily pain forced me to embrace the routine and make time for it in my life. I keep a journal of different yoga routines I’ve put together with the help of my yoga teacher that help with what hurts. Typically, it’s lots of neck rolls and shoulder openers, followed by some core work to warm up for back bends. Basically, any pose that is the opposite of hunched over yarn or a computer is what I’m going for. And, it’s true, if you do something everyday you will get better at it. I used to hate camel pose, but now I’ve managed to get to the full expression of the pose and I kinda like it.

I also like to do a body scan meditation before bed. I figure the less tense I am going to sleep, the more restful the sleep, the faster my body can heal. I use the Insight Timer. My favorite meditation teachers on the app include Meg James, Hugh Byrne, and Michelle DuVal.

5. Knitting Less

I know, I know, this is a blasphemous idea. But also remember that there are many contributing factors and try to balance all of them: computer time, smart phone time, knitting, and any other wrist heavy activities you engage in. Set a timer or remember to get up, stretch, and take breaks during commercials if you’re a TV knitter. At my worst, I was on a computer nine hours a day and then knitting for two hours at night. Unfortunately, you just have to give your body a break! Quit the deadline projects and the holiday-present knitting. Remember, knitting is supposed to be fun, not stressful!

6. Get a More Ergonomic Desk Setup

knitting and carpal tunnel

I have a standing desk setup, but, honestly, I don’t work retail anymore so why would I want to spend the whole day standing? I think regardless of if you have carpal tunnel or not, you should have more ergonomic computer peripheries in order to prevent injury. If you have small hands like me, you’re going to love this mouse. I got a keyboard without the calculator part on the right side so that I could mouse closer to my body and more ergonomically.I also got the cheapest and most adaptable keyboard tray and mouse combo by simply clamping three of these onto my desk.

7. Try Different Knitting Styles

I bought the Portuguese Knitting class on Craftsy, and I already knew how to knit continental. (English knitting actually hurts my shoulder terribly!) I also like to loom knit! Keep experimenting to try and find what works best for your body, or at least gives you different ways to alternate knitting. Try different yarn weights, straights vs. circular needles, wool vs. acrylic, and anything else you can think of. I find natural fibers in heavier yarn weights work best for me.

8. Chiropractic and Massage

I love chiropractors. I’m totally biased because I’m related to two of them, but they’ve certainly helped me over the years. If you don’t already have a chiropractor, I highly recommend finding one via a personal recommendation from someone you know. Because there are some TERRIBLE chiropractors out there and you definitely don’t want to subject yourself to that nonsense!

Find yourself a massage therapist who really wants to use every session to work on finding tension and eleviating pain. I carry a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders that heavily effected my carpal tunnel pain. Seriously, everyone wants a massage, so just go get one already.

9. Lighten the Purse

Seriously. Stop carrying a purse that weighs a million pounds on your shoulder. Convert to a smaller purse, or, better yet, be cool like me and go for a fanny pack. Seriously, there are some cute ones out there. Check these out.

10. Things I still want to try…

I really want to get the book “Knitting Comfortably: The Ergonomics of Hand Knitting” by Carson Demers. He also teaches classes, so keep an eye out for him!

Comment below and let me know what works for you! What have you tried, and what helped?

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My name is Monica Rodriguez and I can’t stop fidgeting with yarn. I live in Albuquerque, NM with my husband. We belong to two terriers who manage to cuddle us just enough to keep us from revolting.

Let me know what you think!