There are a number of reasons that I started applying my training as a medical massage therapist to my crochet obsession. The main one though is my own experience with repetitive stress injury. When I was working full-time as a massage therapist 16 years ago I came near to causing myself permanent injury.
Repetitive stress injuries are very common in the massage therapy field. The last time I was researching the numbers on longevity for massage therapists I found that most work only a short time in the field. 2-4 years is often the typical life-span of a massage career, not all of them end due to injury, but that is a factor for many of them.
When I was in school at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy one of the things that was emphasized in our training was how to care for ourselves to avoid injury. Of course, my trouble didn’t come from my massage work, it came from crocheting.
I had made an ambitious decision to crochet afghans as gifts for a number of my close friends and family members for Christmas. Once the weather got cold they were particularly enjoyable projects. I would snuggle under the afghan as I was working on it. Unfortunately, the holidays were speedily catching up to me, so I was crocheting every spare hour I could find.
I didn’t realize at the time that I had some very bad habits in the way that I was holding my yarn and hook. Those habits might have gone un-remarked, except I was also crocheting for long stretches of time without taking a break. Now, for any of you that have attended one of my presentations about avoiding injury when crafting, you’ve likely spotted a number of red-flags in the previously described scenario.
One of the reasons that I’ve made it my mission to talk to fiber loving folks about how we craft and how to avoid injury when we are crafting, is because I came so close to losing my beloved crochet craft. In short I hurt myself badly. The pain got to the point that I had difficulty working at my occupation of massage therapy. So of course I went to see a doctor. First thing he said after our initial interview was that I would need to stop crocheting.
I asked if he meant just for a little while. His response was in the negative. His advice was that I should give up crocheting, basically forever. “After all, you are a young woman, and crocheting and knitting are for old ladies.”
Okay, stop laughing, I know you all are envisioning my response to that statement. Especially those of you that have met my rather “salty” side. Needless to say I fired that doctor.
Next I sought out a doctor that dealt with sports medicine. These doctors are trained to look at root causes of injury, so that the activity can continue but in a way that doesn’t cause further injury. Generally this work means improving the mechanics of movements involved in the “sport” of choice. In my case that meant crocheting.
First off, I did need to take a break from crochet, I couldn’t crochet for the entire month of January and the first 2 weeks of February. I was really missing my hooks and yarn. In the meantime my doctor had me doing daily contrast baths on my wrists and forearms everyday that I did massage work.
This involved filling a big pan with cold water and ice, then filling the sink with hot water that wouldn’t scald me. I would submerge my entire forearm, wrist and hand in the ice-cold water for as long as I could tolerate it, about 30 seconds. Then move to the hot water bath for 30 seconds. I would go back and forth between the 2 temperatures, ending with the cold bath.
I know it might sound like torture, but it actually helped a great deal. You don’t even have to be injured for contrast baths to be helpful.
After I was given the okay to crochet again I worked with my chiropractor to find a way of holding my crochet hook and yarn that wouldn’t stress my wrists and arms. I also developed better habits in taking breaks when I was crocheting on a project.
My hook hold is a bit unusual, I call it a modified knife hold. It reduces the amount of stress on both my wrist and fingers. It took a while to get used to, but has helped me avoid injury for 14 years now. In the photo above I have the end of the hook between my 2nd and 3rd finger. Sometimes I hold it between my 3rd finger and pinkie. Just depends on the size of the hook and the project I am working on.
All this happened many years before I started designing professionally. In the years since that injury I became a mother and added all those fun tasks to an already busy life. For awhile I barely had the time or energy to crochet. Once I had some time for my favorite creative outlet though, I kept up with my better crochet habits.
Even as a designer working on some mad deadlines, I try to be very aware of listening to my body and being sure to take regular breaks. Even if a break is just getting up and putting another load of laundry in the washing machine or making a snack for my boys.
I also try to include stretching exercises in my daily routine, like the hand stretches in my post “Keeping Your Hands Happy”.
If you notice, I say I “try” to do these things. We are all human and often times we have to be experiencing some aches and pains to remind us to keep up with these good habits. That includes me.
If you are starting to have regular pain from your crochet hobby be sure to get help from your healthcare provider. And if they are telling you to give up crochet forever…get a second opinion.