A bit of My History – RSI and Crochet

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.

Holding the Yarn 2
My method for holding the yarn
Holding the Yarn 3
Once yarn is woven thru fingers I can grip my work without strain in my yarn hand.

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.

My boys when little

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 kids.

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.

8 thoughts on “A bit of My History – RSI and Crochet

  1. Thanks for the reminder advice. I first listened to you at Cama Beach and have passed on that wisdom since.
    Here’s my story: When I was diagnosed with tennis elbow, I just laughed at the doctor, and asked him if I could get it from too much crocheting. I was spending 10-12 hours a day crocheting while recovering from a whiplash injury. I could sit, prop up my head, and hook away 🙂 To recover, now from tennis elbow too, I cut back to 4-6 hrs. a day. Who knew that crochet could lead to physical injury?
    Now, I take frequent breaks and stop to stretch.
    Happy hooking,

  2. Hi. I was wondering what you would suggest for the left hand pain from holding the yarn. The area below my thumb causes me pain when I hold the piece I’m working on. I’ve used a patch that has menthol in it and it helps for awhile. My chiropractor says it’s called mothers thumb from the way we hold our kids. He also tells me to quit crocheting, I ignore him but I do have to quit for a few days to allow it to heal and quit hurting. Do you have any exercises or over the counter treatments I can try.
    Thank you,

    1. Hi Connie,
      I’m not a doctor so these are just some suggestions. I had a bit of “Mother’s Thumb” when my boys were little. But that has been quite some time back so I did some research on the internet. There are a number of resources for ideas on self-care for this condition.

      I found this informative article on the Parents.com website: http://www.parents.com/baby/new-parent/motherhood/mommy-thumb-5-ways-to-ease-the-pain/

      This article has more technical information on the condition and treatment options: http://www.westchestermagazine.com/Westchester-Magazine/De-Quervains-Syndrome-How-To-Identify-Prevent-and-Treat-Tendonitis-in-the-Wrist/ Towards the end of this article there is a list of what treatments an Occupational Therapist might use. I think those could be helpful to you. Ideally you can go to an Occupational Therapist in your area to get an evaluation of what is right for your recovery.

      Once your thumb is recovered and you are going to be crocheting again I would suggest setting a timer for 10 minutes. When it goes off, set down your work and do some stretches and rest your hands for a few minutes. Preferably any activity during this “rest” doesn’t require you to use that thumb.

      Also look at how tightly you are holding onto your work when crocheting. Your hand should be fairly relaxed. You may need a pillow or table under your project while working to take some of the weight off your wrists.

      Most importantly you have to listen to your body. Any twinges or hints of pain mean you need to modify how you use your body in your daily life. Sometimes keeping a journal of your activities and pain levels (and what reduces pain) can help you understand what modifications will help the most. It will also provide data for diagnosis and allow you and your doctor to come up with a treatment plan that will satisfy both of you.

      Hope that helps.

  3. Hi, love your suggestions which I have put some to use and others I will implement asap. I don’t think mine is due to crochet but it doesn’t help. Since I don’t know what sort of injury you were suffering it makes it difficult. I have at least a rotor cuff (shoulder & top of arm injury) but do have pain and stiffness in my shoulder blade and down the R arm (I am R handed so its difficult). It gets so painful and at times feels like the whole arm (no hand pain) is burning. I’ve had rotor cuff on L side 15yrs ago so I knew what part of it probably was. I’ve hardly crocheted the last year due to extreme break on L side that was surgically fixed with plates screws etc and a bad case of flu and phneumonia other than my other probs as I am disabled with a disease. My probs with R can’t possibly be due to the crochet alone. Could you tell me what area and how it affected you that was injured. Thanks Judy

    1. Hi Judy,
      I’m glad you found my post helpful. As to what my injuries were, it was all soft-tissue so not really all that similar to what you are contending with. In a situation such as your injuries that involve surgical intervention, you really need to work with a doctor or physical therapist to investigate and resolve any pain issues.

      I would highly recommend that you keep a healthy journal. In it you make notations on a daily basis on things like, what you eat and drink and how much, How much sleep you got and if it was good, the days activities (walking, crocheting, house cleaning) and time expended in each, and your pain levels, what you think caused pain and what you did to relieve it.

      All that information can help you and your healthcare provider find the best way to help you hopefully improve your health.
      Hope that helps.

  4. I don’t have lots of pain….I get lots of tingling on my fingers on my right hand….I learned to crochet when I was 6 yrs. old….and I did it occasionally, when I got older I started crochet a whole lot….It’s a passion that I have now…I’m retired…and now the doctor tells me I should stop….she said it was because of me being a diabetic….my fingers get a little numb and tingling…its just very annoying….do you have any suggestions?

    1. Gloria, as you well know, diabetes is a game changer. But, I am surprised that the doctor is saying you need to stop crocheting. You definitely need other exercise and strengthening that off-set your posture from your crocheting posture. As well as only crocheting in short stretches.

      All that is well and good, but diabetes means you need to take very good care of yourself and be more alert to avoiding injury. You might want to get a second opinion from another doctor that has your entire health history. Or at least let your current doctor know that giving up crochet would significantly lessen your quality of life. Investigate with her if there is a way you can keep crocheting.

      Best of luck with your journey toward health.

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