At Your Own Pace!

Can a knitter or crocheter ever truly rest and put down their tools? This has been something I’ve been thinking about over the past 2 weeks for 2 key reasons, one personal and one related to a series of comments along the same theme – “tennis elbow”.

I can see my readership developing very puzzled expressions here – what does “tennis elbow” have to do with knitting or crochet? A question I too asked myself last Saturday when a lady at a community event informed me that her GP had told her to do less crochet as it was the likely cause of her tennis elbow – being the only new activity this sporty, but elderly lady had recently taken up. Thinking this was something of a “flash in the pan” as my granny would say, I put it to the back of my mind and carried on crocheting! However when I went along to teach my Eastleigh group on Monday night, one of my regular ladies said she’s not done much crochet due to developing tennis elbow….. curiouser and curioser……. then another lady arrived and said she’d also got a touch of it, but she thought it was work induced.

We then talked about just how much crochet they’d been doing and it turned out to be quite bit. Then I remembered I’d pretty much put down my cross stitch needle as it caused a muscle in my neck to spasm, which because of my lunatic nervous system then lead onto horrible pain in the middle of my shoulder blades and a body shape akin to a certain inhabitant of a Notre Dame bell tower….

And it suddenly clicked – all these inflammatory problems are a result of “repetitive strain injury” or RSI – and that then got me thinking about how I was first taught to live with the chronic pain and other difficulties I face daily due to my lunatic nervous system. What happens in the body when something is overused and inflamed is that the surrounding muscles tense to protect the area…… however this becomes a viscious circle with the tense muscles increasing the pain and reducing our willingness to keep the area moving because it hurts. In chronic pain these difficulties intensify and in severe cases, can be like living with one of those annoying burglar alarms that goes off every time a moth flies by causing the body to do all sorts of daft things – a recent change in atmospheric pressure has left me back in a wheelchair with severe muscle spasms, spasticty and a torso and legs that seem to have completely stopped communicating unless it involves landing me on my bum!

In acute injuries like tennis elbow, using prescribed medication, seeking medical advice and rest are all invaluable. However there will come a time when the offending area needs to get back to work and this is where things started to click….  rehabilitation after an acute injury is similar to retraining your pain system and persuading it that calm is good! Its a principle called pacing… whe you are meant to pace all the time, I have to be honest and say its not a fun way to live and that most people with chronic pain tend to pace on a much larger level that involves a certain element of risk taking in order to enjoy life. But when you first start rehabilitating the principles are the same – little and often is better than once and crash!

For example if I was one of the unfortunate tennis elbow sufferers, I would sit down on a day when I had not much else on and crochet until my elbow started to make itself known – I’d then stop and note the time that took. I might not crochet again that day, but if I did, I would not pick my hook up for at least 50% of the time it took me to start to feel a twinge. For example if I found I could crochet for 30mins I would have 15mins rest before starting again. And by rest, I mean not doing anything that would aggravate the pain further. However when I picked the hook up again I would only crochet for 15 mins with 7.5 mins rest. I would work with these times for around a week, unless my pain got worse when I would re-evaluate. However assuming all was well I would plan a slighlty longer session, say 20 mins with 10 mins rest for the following week. Assuming this was ok, I’d increase to 25 mins but keep to 10 mins rest – as we want to increase the activity time now and start to reduce the rest. If this worked, then by the next week I’d be up to 30 mins crochet at a time with 10 mins rest. As long as this didn’t increase my pain, then I’d start working on gradually decreasing my rest period, perhaps by 2.5 mins a week, until I could work with only 5 min breaks. From there it would be a case of seeing how things went, but realistically, it would always be important to maintain regular rest periods during crochet sessions and being sensible about how much time I crocheted per day to minimise the risk of aggravating the elbow again.

Its certainly prompted me to consider whether I should include something about this in beginners lessons, especially as beginners tend to hold their hands more stiffly and are taking up an activity new to them. I never thought of knitting or crochet as being particularly hazardous, minus the risk of someone running amok with a knitting needle, as many charity shops seem to think is likely to happen today! However its definitely made me aware that its definitely worth mentioning to students, especially the very keen!


4 thoughts on “At Your Own Pace!

  1. Don’t forget the carpal tunnel syndrome. Do you wear wrist supports, or the support gloves? I think Lion Brand and the Crochet Dude has those. The repetitive motion as you crochet may also affect your wrist. Not to mention cramped fingers, if crocheting for long periods at a time. It’s as they say – get up, stretch, and take a 15-minute break in between marathon crocheting or knitting.

    • Thanks for the feedback Marrisafh. I hadn’t thought about carpal tunnel! Will do a bit more research and feature it in a future post. I’m writing based on my experiences and feedback received as a craft tutor, so I really welcome comments and ideas that will help me improve my blog 🙂

  2. Very insightful!
    Both my grandmothers were keen on creating lovely things for the family – one was an avid knitter for 70 years and the other was first a knitter then predominantly focused on crochet from the mid 1970’s right through to 2003 just before she died.
    My Dad’s mum was crocheting right up to the month before she died age 84 – it was a joy to her to keep creating (even simpler things) although she had many painful medical conditions and ailments. She was very alert mentally and always said it was her crochet, her crosswords and daily doses of ‘Countdown’!

    My maternal grandmother (the knitter) had carpal tunnel syndrome around the age of 75 and was advised by her doctor to hold back on the knitting and, if I’m honest when she stopped she really missed it…

    Emotional connection to that creativity for peae of mind and wellbeing is a great topic for discussion too don’t you think?

    • Hi Roberta, coming from a family of knitters I can really relate to your story – one of my nans knitted even after losing her sight to glaucoma. I think all the family benefitted in many ways from knitting, whether it was jumpers for chapel bazzars or gifts. I still have and treasure the first blankets my Nan Newman made for my brother and I – they need a bit of TLC but are still just about holding themselves together 40 odd years on.

      I’m working on some ideas about emotional wellbeing, creativity and having a sense of purpose, whatever the circumstances – I’m spending a day at an “Embarrassing Illnesses” event next week and am planning to do some very active listening to help me formulate something that isn’t just about my experiences but those of others too.

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