Repetitive and calming, crocheting can be a very effective way to de-stress, wind down and soothe your soul after a hectic day. Over time, however, you may develop pains resulting from the very thing that is soothing about crochet, its repetitiveness. Unfortunately, pain is something that yarn crafters deal with from time to time. Repetitive motions in the hands and/or wrists can often cause cramping or sharp pains that make it hard to finish that big project! Luckily, a lot of pain can be avoided or alleviated with some basic adjustments to your form, posture and tools.
Common Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI’s) in crocheters are headaches, neck or upper back pain, hand or wrist pain and tendinitis in the elbow and/or shoulder.
Something to really keep in mind is that any pain while crocheting may be a sign of a Repetitive Strain Injury, which makes up nearly two thirds of occupational illnesses according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The folks at RSI-Therapy.com recommend limiting time spent on a certain job to one hour or less to help prevent these types of strains. Remind yourself to take plenty of breaks to allow your body to experience different types of movement.
Luckily RSI’s, are easily managed or prevented by practicing the following tips and exercises regularly:
- Take short breaks often. If watching TV, get up, walk around, do some of the following exercises during commercials. If not, set your phone for a timer every 15 -20 minutes and take a mini-break.
- Make sure you have good lighting.
- Change the project you are working on. Cottons, linens and bamboo fibers have very little give and cause strain on your arms when working with them. Limit your time working with these fibers. Switch to another project that uses ‘springier’ yarns (blends, wools, acrylics, etc.).
- Try loosening your grip on your hook and sitting up straight. When teaching, I find that pain complaints can be stopped when we adjust the hunched-over-death grip that nervous students take on the hooks. Your grip should be firm but flexible. If someone pulled on your hook, it should come free easily. No white knuckle crocheting.
Headaches, Neck, Shoulder and Upper Back Pain
Headaches and neck pain after crocheting are usually caused by one of two things, eye strain and neck or upper back strain.
Good lighting is the easiest way to prevent eye strain. Also, by contrasting the background to the yarn you are using, it ensures an easier time seeing your stitches. For example, if you are working with dark colors, drape a light or white cloth or towel across your lap to provide a contrast your yarn.
Neck and upper back pain results from looking down at your work either for long periods or repetitively. During your mini-break, relieve neck tension by flexing your head from side to side (ear towards your shoulder keeping your shoulders down) then forward and back (chin to chest then looking up) 5 times in each direction. To relieve shoulder and upper back tension, roll your shoulders forwards and backwards 5 times in each direction then squeeze your shoulder blades together tightly, count to 10 then relax for a count of 20, repeat 3 times.
“Firstly I make sure to sit comfortably with a good support for my back, put a pillow under my arm when the project is getting heavy, and get a break regularly to stretch my arms, neck, and shoulders. Also, good ergonomic hook is definitely worth it.” – Adinda Hening
Shoulder or Elbow Tendinitis, Wrist or Hand Pain
If you have pain that comes and goes in your shoulder, elbow, wrist or hands or that gets worse while crocheting, you might have developed tendinitis at one or more of your joints. By following these simple exercises, you can relieve your pain and prevent worsening of your symptoms.
If you think you need additional support, there are some really great support gloves on the market that you can wear while working on your project. They provide some compression and help with swelling. The Crochet Dude has a great line of different styles available at Michael’s and JoAnn’s. I wear them when I know I’ll be sitting for a while (deadlines can be brutal sometimes) or if I am working on a heavy piece.
“I always place a pillow under my arm. It helps a lot in preventing pain in my shoulders. Also, I wear craft gloves when knitting/crochet.” – Nazanin Fard
Also, is the piece you’re working on large and cumbersome, like an afghan or an adult sweater, perhaps? If so, make sure you’re working somewhere where you can place the item to help hold the weight rather than letting it just hang down, putting all the weight on your wrists. When I am working on a big item, I will often find a comfortable chair at a table or place a pillow in my lap to help manage the weight.
Note: If you experience pain all the time, if it wakes you up at night or you can’t sleep due to the pain, see your doctor. It may not be tendinitis or your tendinitis might need medical intervention to resolve the pain.
- Elbow stretch for “Golfers Elbow”: Hold your arm straight out in front of you, palm facing up. With your other hand, gently press your hand down so your fingers point to the floor. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds, slowly release and repeat for other arm.
- Elbow stretch for “Tennis Elbow”: Hold your arm straight out in front of you, palm facing down. With your other hand, gently press your hand down so your fingers point to the floor. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds, slowly release and repeat for other arm.
- Shoulder Tendonitis (“Biceps Tendonitis”): Standing sideways with your sore shoulder side to a wall, with the back of your hand flat on the wall and thumb pointing down, slowly bring your arm up behind you along the wall. Only bring your arm up as high as you can to feel the stretch in the front of your shoulder and upper arm. Hold 30 seconds and slowly release.
Note of caution: Stretching should NOT be painful! If it hurts, you are over-stretching and your pain will worsen. Relax until you only feel the stretch with no pain and then hold.
“Stretch hands, arms, and shoulders before working, use good ergonomic hooks, and use Epsom salt soaks to reduce swelling when you have been working for a long time.” – Kati Brown
You can also try a few gentle stretches before working and at break periods throughout your session. One that I find really helpful is something I like to call the “Yarn Prayer” followed by the “Motorcycle Stretch.”
- Sit tall and place your hands together in front of your chest, as if you are about to pray. Press them together firmly from wrist to fingertips.
- Slowly press one hand into the other so the other flexes backward. Hold for a count of ten and switch. Do this a few times with deep breaths.
- While still holding that prayer form, rotate hands outwards to make fingertips point into the room. Hold for a count of ten and then rotate back to upright.
- Next, rotate so that your fingertips are now pointing inwards. Hold for a count of ten.
- Move your hands apart and forward from your body, palms down, and make fists (not tight). While keeping your arms straight, rotate your wrists to point your fists away from your body, holding for 10 seconds. You’ll really feel this one in your forearms!
- Finally, drop your hands to your side and shake them out. A few shoulder shrug rolls will probably feel good at this point as well
Wrist and Hand Pain
Tightly squeeze your hands into fists, rotate wrists one direction 5 times. Next, alternately widely open your fingers then squeeze tightly together into fists, repeating 5 times. With your fists squeezed, rotate your wrists the opposite way 5 times. Finally, repeat the flicking-squeezing motion of your hands 5 times. Shake out your wrists and hands.
“Hand stretches – mostly clenching fist and stretching fingers.” – Emma Wilkinson
All these simple exercises and tips take no more than a few minutes to complete and will save you a lot of missed crochet time in the long run. By taking care of yourself, crochet will to continue to be the relaxing and soothing activity you have come to enjoy for your many future projects.
If you’re experiencing a great deal of pain (especially sharp, stabbing pains), I would definitely suggest a visit to your doctor. You may have something else going on, such as carpal tunnel, and might benefit from physical therapy. Don’t forget: ice and Aleve are your friends!
If you haven’t experienced pain while crocheting yet and/or want to prevent future injuries, investing in the right tools from the start is a good idea. While some of the prettiest and unique hooks on the market are also at a higher price point, many are worth it for the comfort alone. It does take some time to find the type of hook that works best for you as each crocheter has their own way of holding their hook. Here’s what some of our designers have to say:
“A good ergonomic hook like Clover brand is worth its weight in gold!” – Susan Kennedy
“I use to have pain in my wrists when i would crochet all day. ever since I changed to Clover Amour crochet hooks, I do not have that problem and more…even when I am crocheting with multiple strands of yarn!” – Debra Arch
“Using ergonomic wooden hooks and lots of breaks to stretch arms and hands!” – Tanya Eberhardt
“I have three hooks in each size which all require a different grip. I rotate them throughout the day and that works well for me. I also keep a few rubber bands in my bag which I can use to wrap smaller hooks so I don’t have to hold them as tight. I also crochet with both hands and find that helps too” – Rosann Fleischauer
Personally, I would recommend buying an ergonomic hook in the size that you use the most to test out how it feels instead of buying a whole set of hooks that you may not like. Many crocheters seek out ergonomic hooks AFTER having an injury, but if you’re starting out I encourage you to seek out these friendlier hooks from the beginning.