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By Bonne Marie Burns

If you were to plant a spycam in a ceiling light at a KnitGroup NightOut, you would witness a curious phenomenon.

After the group rounded up their lattes and snacks, there would be a half-hour or so of rampant catching-up over projects and personals. Show 'n' tells would be popping up here and there along with the delicious oohs and aaahs we all love.

But one-by-one, the knitters will drift off into a more individual orbit. Here you would see them as they become absorbed in their knitting, steady and quiet as they sink into their work.

For a knitter, this is a wonderful moment -- one where your hands become an ancient loom and you make a fabric, stitch by stitch. One's eye/hand co-ordination is at maximum as your brain allows your body to smoothly repeat the same movements over and over in an easy and pleasing way. It is as rhythmic and soothing as a lullaby, sweet like a love song.

In fact, most knitters express that this meditative, low energy/low stress characteristic is what they love most about knitting.

But take heed: just like the cute things your boyfriend did when you first fell in love (the ones that eventually drive you crazy), the repetitive nature of the craft may be your undoing. One day, you might feel tingling in your finger tips or numbness along your wrist. Or you might feel pain and tenderness on the inside or outside of your elbow.

If you are also a computer professional, you might already have carpal tunnel syndrome and the sweater the pattern said you could finish in a weekend will leave you wincing by Monday morning.

Before you know it, your happy shiny moments with the needles have ground to a halt and are replaced by inflammation, pain and fatigue.

I am a knitter with rheumatoid arthritis. I have had this condition since I was a child and it has many symptoms, mine being mainly joint deterioration. Inflammatory cells release enzymes that digest bone and cartilage. An involved joint loses its shape and alignment, resulting in pain and loss of movement because pieces of the bone are cracked off in the joint. I have it in my big toes, jaw and knuckles. It is different than the arthritis associated with growing old. Females with RA outnumber males by a 3:1 margin.

Fortunately, my condition is intermittent. Most of the time, it is in remission and I feel fine. I asked my doctor if eventually I would have to give up knitting because my knuckles were going to dissolve and was overjoyed to find out that although there are no guarantees (or cures), knitting is an excellent way to maintain and continue developing the flexibility in my joints. [Editor's note: I have early-stage carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis and my specialist told me the same thing. Knitting can help keep joints loose.]

SO what's the route to hand /limb health?

Top Ten Ways to Avoid Stressing Your Joints

  • Stop being a weekend warrior. Those marathon knitting sessions are bad not only for your hands, but hard on your love life. (Yes, we not only want you to be a healthy knitter, we want you to be a slyly smiling, happy knitter.)

  • Drink lots of water. REALLY. This is always GOOD for you.

  • Take lots of breaks. Get up and stretch. Do some sit-ups to strengthen your lower back! Do some push-ups to build your pecs (YEAH!) and firm your triceps.

  • Find the chair in your house that is both comfortable and gives you the best support and posture profile. POSTURE, posture, posture, please. Shoulder blades back, tummy in.

  • Knit with your arms parallel to your body from the shoulder to the elbow, and perpendicular to your torso. Keep a tight profile. Don't bend your wrists. This is my main offense: I crab my wrists at an angle when I drift off mentally and strangle the old carpal till it screams. Don't do that. Keep your wrists aligned with your forearms.

  • Hold your knitting needles at the same non-angled degree as your forearms. Don't tilt up or down because when you do, you are bending something that doesn't want to be bent, over and over, and it will pay you back plenty if you don't pay attention.

  • When you feel pain or numbness, STOP. I mean it; put it down! REST those babies and look forward to a better day. You may want to ask your doctor about over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like naproxen or ibuprofen.

  • If you feel repeated tingling and numbness, it's time for a trip to the doctor. NOW.
  • You'll like this one! Keep several projects going using different types and gauges of yarns, needles and patterns. Switch off between them to feed your limbs a balanced diet of movements. This way you will exercise different small muscle groups and strengthen your joint flexibility.

  • AND, drum roll, please, the #1 reliever of stressed out paddy-cakes: circular needles. Use them to knit back and forth or in the round. They take the weight and bulk off of your hands/wrists and let your lap do the heavy duty. You will look like you are leading a symphony as you create.

Note: None of us at Knitty are doctors. Please consult your doctor before making any changes that may affect your health. We know you know this, but we have to say it.


Bonne Marie Burns, founder of the hugely popular and highly entertaining, believes in never letting her beer budget get in the way of her chic champagne tastes!

Currently, she is obsessed with socks.


© 2003 Bonne Marie Burns