How to Maintain Strong, Flexible Wrists for Knitting

hands hurt from knitting

by Chandi on January 1, 2012

I posted a question on twitter a few weeks ago, asking: “Do you have any techniques for keeping your wrists strong and feeling great through endless days of knitting?”

So from responses there, as well as personal experience, I have found a few things that might prove helpful for you.

A bit of background on why this subject is personal for me:

About 2 summers ago I knitted a silk hat for 10 hours straight, with super tight stitches and very grippy, wooden needles. I felt it hurting but continued on as I had never experienced any pain from crafting before and didn’t really think it would make any difference. However, that night and for about a week after, my  hands were on FIRE; burning, throbbing and pulsing with horrible, icy, hot pain. It felt like needles of hot ice shooting up through my arms.

It was literally months before I could knit again, totally pain-free.

So needless to say, I now pay attention to my body and know how much I can handle and when it’s time to stop or take a break.

SO! If you’re like me and love to knit or crochet every chance you get, it’s important to keep your hands, wrists and arms strong and flexible. So here we go!

If You Currently Knit Pain-Free and Want to Maintain That:

Stretching: Stretching before and after your knitting sessions and during the day can be excellent for keeping the wrists flexible and loose. You’ll want to be gentle of course, and never stretch until you feel pain. I like to hold my hands in a prayer-like position, as such and hold for 10 seconds. Stretch into the position a little more. 10 seconds. And again, stretch a little more…lift those elbows and rock the hands so the palms pull apart and just the fingers are touching. 10 seconds:

hands that hurt from knitting stretching

Then I flip to a reverse prayer position, as shown. Hold for 10 seconds, stretch further, 10 seconds. Stretch further again, 10 seconds.

stretching aching wrists from knitting

You can also do one hand at a time and stretch each arm individually.

I also like to hold my arms at shoulder height, out to the side, and twist my palms forward slowly, hold, and then twist back and hold.

stretching wrists that hurt from craftingMy Wrists Hurt From Knitting

I have recently taken up yoga to really aid in full body stretching and toning. Although knitting wasn’t the primary reason, it was a tiny piece of it. Although, I do admit to working out in the past, just so I’d have strong arms for knitting. *sheepish grin. Pun intended :)

Taking frequent breaks. This seems obvious, but when you’re on a deadline or just really in the zone and loving your knitting, spinning or crocheting, it can be difficult to make yourself stop. You just love it so much that you want to keep going and going, and if you could just get one more row done…

If you can’t remember to stop, set a timer (I use the one on my iPhone) to go off every 10 or 15 minutes. Put down your work, breath. Get up. Stretch. Rotate the wrists around and around to keep them loose. Send a text to someone you love. Read a page in a good book. Take a potty break. And then resume knitting. I “try” to do this, but in truth, usually end up plowing through. And my wrists begin to whine and complain and tell me I’ve been naughty.

If You Have a Slight Amount of Pain from Knitting and Want to Ease It:

Do all of the above, and consider:

Rest. This is rather pointless to say, since knitting can be so compelling and sometimes literally impossible to stop, but it can be beneficial to just stop and rest sometimes. If you’re in excruciating pain, then stop. It’s your body telling you something. Respect your body and it will respect you.

How long does it take hurting wrists to heal? It depends. As I mentioned before, when my hands and arms were literally raging with firey, throbbing pain, it was months before I felt back to normal. If you are only in mild pain and just feel a twinge of something odd, then a few days of rest or at least taking it easy should do the trick.

Choose looser projects. Some projects, just due to the thickness of the yarn, as compared to the needle size, can be really tight to knit. Try to stay away from these if you’re concerned about pain, because you’ll have increased tension on the arms, with could lead to strain and pain.

When beginning a new project, do a small gauge swatch to see how the yarn feels with the needle size.

Switch to metal needles. When just learning to knit, it can be beneficial to start with wooden needles or other grippy needles. However, once you are an advanced beginner and feel comfortable with the process, I recommend trying metal needles. This makes a huge difference in how the yarn slides along. It can be easier for the stitches to drop off the needles, but I find this rarely happens and is easily fixed if it does. And the ease that the yarn glides along smooth, metal needles really reduces tension on my hands and arms. I always prefer metal needles now and only use wooden ones when I can’t find metals in the right size.

Consider the connection between mind and body. This might sound hokey to some, but I truly believe in the power of our minds to shape our lives and even alter the cells in our bodies. Before beginning to knit, imagine your knitting session as pleasant and peaceful, with your wrists flexible and feeling great.

If You Are In Excruciating Pain and Want Relief NOW:

Continue with the above suggestions and try:

Icing those wrists. Fill a sink with water and plop in ice cubes or water bottles partially filled with water and frozen. Once the water is icy cold, dunk your wrists into the water for 10 seconds (all the way to your elbows if you can) and then remove. Do this every hour or so if your wrists or elbows are on fire. It can be incredibly soothing and actually has physical benefits.

When you ice an inflammed area, the blood and other toxic fluid that has been building up in the area are forced out and fresh, oxygen-rich blood rushes back in once your arms begin to warm up. So out with the toxic waste and in with the healing blood!

This is a great technique if you are already inflammed. If not, it’s probably not necessary.

Change your knitting technique. I realized one day as my wrists continued to hurt almost every time I began to knit that my pain might be eased if I just made a few tweeks to how I was knitting. After all, there seem to be people who knit frequently (much more than I do) and have admitted to never having any pain. So, I reasoned, perhaps my technique could be adjusted. And yes, indeed, it was a brilliant conclusion.

So I changed my style of knitting and voila. I can literally knit for hours on end now, with my hands, arms and wrists feeling great.

Essentially I hold the yarn in my left hand and just gently rock my left wrist back and forth. I’ll do a YouTube demonstration at some point if there is interest in it.

This method allows me to knit with a satisfactory amount of speed, while still being easy on the hands, so it’s perfect for me. But if what you’re currently doing works, then stick with it! That is one thing I love about knitting: We each have our own unique style, and yet manage to create the same stitches. :) So cool.

In summary, as long as we stay focused on strong, flexible wrists and do what we can to keep them that way, our knitting should be much more pleasant and enjoyable.

If you’re currently in severe pain, follow the suggestions above and speak with your doctor. I choose to say that, but in truth, I personally believe most wrist surgeries are not necessary. Sometimes they are, and that is a consideration, but I don’t believe most of them should occur.

If you have any other suggestions, feel free to share! I’m always interested in learning more!

Happy, healthy knitting to you!

(And of course, none of this information is meant to treat, cure or prevent disease… You should definitely check with your doctor if you experience prolonged pain.)

About the author

Chandi Hi, I'm Chandi! I'm a self-professed lover of all things yarn. I'm an avid knitter, crocheter, wool dyer, fleece and roving spinner and occasional felter! I offer beautiful, inspiring, hand-painted yarns and deliver the best of all yarn-related tutorials I can on my blog.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Sunny January 1, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Instead of knitting so tight, go down one or two needle sizes and then you can be more relaxed when you knit. If this doesn’t work for you try knitting something with Cascade Fixation Sock. You shouldn’t stetch the yarn, so it is a very zen moment.

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admin January 1, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Thanks so much! Great tip!

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Christene January 1, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Thanks for posting this! I needed some new stretches for my wrists. :)

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admin January 1, 2012 at 11:03 pm

You are welcome! Thanks for the comment!

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Nat May 2, 2012 at 3:40 am

Thanks for all the stretching tips.
I’m still concerned about my wrists. I was an avid knitter, and about a year ago I knitted almost daily, but then started to feel a tightness in my right wrist, (I am right handed), so I took a break and learned to left hand knit. I also write/ type frequently and took to stretching breaks while working. I iced my wrists and got a brace to help the pain, but nothing has seemed to improve my wrist. Recently I stopped knitting for a whole month, and then made a quick swatch. The next day my wrist was very tense and it hurt to hold a pen write. Do you have any other suggestions that I can do myself before seeing a doctor?
Thanks for posting,
Nat

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Chandi May 2, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Hi, Nat.

I understand where you are at.

It can be very frustrating to want to knit and see others knitting away, whipping out sweaters and shawls like nobody’s business, but you try to pick up your needles and start feeling pain right away.

In my research, I’ve discovered the tips I shared in the blog post, and some places have mentioned that drinking more milk or eating more protein helps, but I can’t vouch for that. It’s worth a shot, though.

This might not be what you want to hear, but I actually took up different crafts to compensate for the wrist pain, which might be something you can consider. Dyeing yarn and fiber gives instant satisfaction, without pain. Spinning your own yarn to knit with uses different muscles (but it’s important to take it easy on that as well, as you can end up in the same pain-boat). Weaving is another option, although I haven’t tried that yet, so cannot say if it causes any pain. Crochet is another option as well, but I found it exaggerated the pain even more, as it twists the right hand around and around, depending on the method you use.

When all else fails, I believe it helps to stop and reevaluate, rather than beating a “sick” horse. I will say that I have had two major instances in my life where I had something awful occurring and as a result of searching for a solution, I ended up starting two different businesses.

1. I’ve dealt with acne my whole life and it was always very frustrating. I finally developed my own foundation to cover it while still looking natural and created a very successful cosmetic company out of that, which helped thousands of others earn their livings reselling my products, and even more women to feel more confident about themselves, due to wearing my products.
2. Due mainly to my wrist pain, I began dyeing yarn several years ago. As a result, when the idea for a yarn business came to me last summer, I already knew how to hand-paint yarn and started my Expression Fiber Arts business, which is now beginning to pick up and take off and as a result, I’m quitting my job and doing this full time as a living.

So perhaps this is true for you as well. I believe that sometimes a greater force can lead us in new and different directions if we will relent and release and allow. It know it can be difficult at first, but hopefully this is true for you and great things come from this irritation.

Let me know how it goes for you!!

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Celticengineer March 25, 2013 at 8:12 pm

I’d really like to see the video of the different knitting technique

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