Knitters, Crocheters, Sewers, and Computer Users, listen up! Carson Demers’ book Knitting Comfortably is your first step toward preventing injuries related to your craft. Carson “gets” knitters, because he is one. He is also an ergonomics expert, which makes him the perfect person to provide information without judgement.
Knitting Comfortably is Carson’s gift to anyone who works with their hands. By page 15, I had gotten out my needles to critique my technique. He had me at “anatomic tunnels” and “stitch mount”. He gave me a whole new set of things to consider: What type of needles should I use for this project? What type of project bag should I carry? Why didn’t I know this stuff years ago?
I could say so many other things about the geeky awesomeness of Knitting Comfortably, but my quick review is: Buy this book. Study it. Use the information. Share the information. You’ll feel better.
I thought it might be fun for you to hear from Carson himself. The questions are mine, the answers from Carson.
Let’s get this out of the way: The book is called Knitting Comfortably, but it can apply to crochet, spinning, or anything we do with our hands and bodies, right?
Yes, it can. In fact, some people say that it shouldn’t be called “Knitting Comfortably” but “Crafting” or even “Living” comfortably because the information is universal. The main tool we use to knit—our hands—is the same tool we use to crochet, sew, spin, weave, use the computer, etc.
I did that on purpose. I wanted a book specifically for knitters because I saw so many knitters in the clinic for treatment. We all need lessons in how our body works and how it interacts with the environment. Just by virtue of the topic “ergonomics” it will be germane to all activities we do.
What is ergonomics? How does it relate to knitters?
Ergonomics seeks to create a comfortable environment in which we can work productively, efficiently, and safely. I describe the relationship as a 3-legged stool where the seat represents the environment and the legs represent productivity, efficiency, and safety. The goal is a comfortable seat. If any of the legs are over or under emphasized (are longer or shorter) than the others, the stool won’t be comfortable.
With knitting as an example, we tend to overemphasize productivity right before the holidays. That comes at a cost to being an efficient knitter, because as we hurry to meet the deadline we tend to make more mistakes. It negatively impacts safety because we stop paying attention to how our body feels as we crank through the knitting. When it’s over we notice all the aches and pains that were probably there all along but we chose to ignore them in the interest of meeting a deadline.
You can overemphasize efficiency at the cost of safety and productivity. Knitters (and most people) do this by buying into the belief that if we eliminate the need to get up from the chair while we’re working, we’ll get more done. False! Sitting has short- and long-term effects on your body that impact productivity and safety. Heart rate and respiration go down with sitting. This means less blood flow to your brain. Ever notice that there are more errors at the end of an evening’s work than when you first started?
Over time static postures like sitting change the length of muscle and other soft tissue. This impacts range of motion – especially at the hips, and knees, and strength – especially of the “core” muscles, abdominals, gluteals, quadriceps, etc.
And yes, you can overemphasize your goal of safety. For example, someone concerned about injuring or re-injuring themselves who simply avoids the task. It’s hard to be productive if you’re not knitting; it’s hard to develop efficient methods of knitting if you don’t practice them regularly.
On a personal note, I’d like to read “Chapter 6: Forceful Exertion” and “Chapter 9: The Ergonomic of our Tools” as it relates to crochet. Give me a preview of what those chapters would say.
Just as knitters have faulty tensioning techniques, the same is true for crocheters. My off-the-cuff observation is that a lot of crocheters have too much space between the working yarn and the hook. The longer the yarn, the more force needed to tension it. Likewise, there is a lot of poor pairing of yarn and hook. There may be fewer options for hook materials than needle materials, which makes it harder to do a good job of pairing for friction control.
What are the most common causes of our injuries?
When I was seeing patients as a physical therapist I saw a lot of injured knitters. I had very bad injuries myself a few years ago. My injuries were so profound I couldn’t treat patients! I wasn’t comfortable driving or bending my elbows for about two years.
When I started seeing knitters come in with these issues it made me very sad. Most of the time their primary care provider had told them to stop knitting, which you and I know is like being told to stop breathing. I realized that my experience was a blessing because I could share my knowledge with others.
Often these people’s injuries had a component related to knitting, but knitting itself was not the root cause of the injury. We use the same muscles and postures for knitting as we do for most activities of modern living – computing, driving, anything that has you seated with shoulders and elbows flexed, wrists extended, and fingers flexed or flexing. The common cause of our injuries and discomfort is overuse and not attending to how much work we ask these muscles to do.
The contribution of the knitting is that we tend not to think of it as work. It’s our happy place. Our well-earned, well deserved respite from the rest of the day to sit, watch TV or whatever and knit. In truth, knitting and any activity that involves a muscle to contract is work from the perspective of the muscle.
What are some common knitting-related types of injury?
Lateral epicondylitis, a tendinitis on the outside of the elbow, is a common complaint among Continental knitters. It is usually caused by a faulty yarn tensioning technique. Faulty technique in transferring stitches off the giving needle also contribute to this problem.
English style knitters often complain of hand and wrist pain, again with a root cause connected to faulty or absent tensioning techniques.
How do we prevent injury?
There are lots of ways to prevent discomfort. I usually look at these as high- or low-hanging fruit. It’s easier to pick the low stuff first. Add stretch and rest breaks into your knitting experience. The book has tons of ways to do that, but in short, put the work down every 20 minutes or so and stretch your arms, walk to the kitchen for some water, or just rest. The high-hanging fruit would involve changing tensioning techniques. This is not always easy, especially for folks who’ve been knitting for several years.
Is there any exercise that knitters should not do? Should I cut back on my strength training (even if I’m using proper form) so I can knit and crochet more?
Such a good question! Unless you’re doing a lot of forearm and hand exercises at the gym, you probably don’t need to worry about it. In fact, it’s likely helping you to be a more sustainable knitter. Generally the kind of exercise we do at a gym or in a class involves larger muscle groups, flexibility, and cardiovascular training. These all help to make you a “fitter knitter” (sorry, couldn’t resist that).
Most knitters will admit that they know they should take breaks from knitting and computer use, practice good posture, and relax their neck and shoulders when they are knitting. What are your top three lesser-known tips?
Tip #1 – To those knitters who know this stuff, use it! It doesn’t do you any good if you leave it on the shelf.
Tip #2 – Clean your needles after projects and during larger projects. Your hands sweat, putting salts and oils on your needles. This isn’t good for the needle’s finish and adds to friction.
Tip #3 – You usually can’t have a neutral wrist posture while you’re knitting, but you can while computing. Invest in posture by working neutral when you can, so you’re able to work in awkward postures when you need to.
Knitting Comfortably is a fascinating cross between an ergonomics/anatomy textbook and a how-to knitting manual. What sort of response have you heard from health care professionals? From knitters?
I’ve had positive feedback from allied care professionals and physicians. I was a little nervous to see how the book would score with them, but they’ve been big supporters. I’ve also had a lot of people buy the book for their physical therapists. How cool are these knitters?!
The response from the knitting community has been amazing. I get the most inspiring email from readers. I never would have imagined what it means to many of my readers, not just in their knitting experience, but in lots of activities. The information I provide is transferable to many activities. It’s an incredible honor to get feedback like this from people who are helped by my work.
What do you want people to understand about Knitting Comfortably?
First, it’s not a book of treatment. It won’t cure you of any illness or injury. Its goal is to educate about risk factors in knitting and other activities and how to mitigate them for a more ergonomic knitting experience.
The second thing is that the book (and I) will never say that you knit incorrectly. It’s not about judging or scoring your technique. It’s about educating the reader so they have greater knitting comfort and longevity.
Who doesn’t want to knit comfortably until they are 100 years old?
A Final Note from Edie: Thanks so much to Carson for answering my questions, and for writing this book for all of us. You can find Carson at www.ergoiknit.com.