Chronic Pain and Crafting, Part 1: Needles & Techniques

The days of only finding one style of needle or hook in the craft aisle at the local grocery store are long over. Thanks to the internet, international shipping, and several clever and talented independent creators, there are now a plethora of needle and hook styles available that can help extend your crafting time. If you have pain when crafting, changing your needle or hook is the most obvious first step, and the most cost effective change. 

For crocheters, Susan Bates offers a full set of ergonomic handles with interchangeable hooks [link], and that isn’t the only company with such a product on offer. These chunky handles twist into place and are molded to fit the shape of your hand, regardless of the type of hold you use (“knife” versus “pencil”). 

If that’s not your speed, artistic hooks with tear-drop shaped handles are now being produced by many companies, though perhaps the best known is Furls [link]. No one said ergonomics have to be ugly!

If you’re not ready to replace your whole collection, look for silicone grips [link] in the yarn aisle of your local big box craft store or online. These look like giant pencil grips, and slide onto your existing hooks with the application of soap and water. 

For knitters, there are also more ergonomic options, such as switching to square needles [link] or circulars. Square needles are supposed to help even out tension by discouraging a chokehold on the knitting while providing a better grip.

Circulars, whether fixed or interchangeable, help take the weight off the needle itself, allowing larger projects to rest in the lap rather than requiring they be moved with each stitch the way they would with a straight needle. For me, circulars were a game changer. They’ve taken the pressure off my wrists, reducing pain and extending my knitting life.  

Whether you are a knitter or crocheter, changing the material your tools are made of can also help. Crochet hooks and knitting needles made of a more flexible plastic might reduce pain for those with arthritic hands, but increase it for people with repetitive strain in their wrists. Many prefer the flexibility and warmth of wooden needles, but I personally prefer the coolness of lightweight metal needles. 

Changing the way you craft is another way to reduce pain and fatigue in hands and wrists.Youtube is a great resource in searching for different ways of holding your needles or hooks and yarn. Switching from knife to pencil hold for crochet, or continental to English for knitters, or even Peruvian, changes the muscle groups used when crafting. Even temporarily switching between techniques allows muscles and tendons to rest or move in a different way, which allows inflamed muscles to rest, strengthens lesser-used muscles, and helps provide support for joints. 

The multi-craftual among us are at the best advantage, because the best way to avoid pain is to switch between different activities, like switching from crochet to spinning when your wrists begin to ache, or from knitting to sewing, cross stitch, or embroidery. 

Regular breaks, whether to participate in a different craft, activity, or just to take a walk around the block, are essential. The most important thing is to adapt your movement and the time spent on different activities to your current physical abilities. For more on exercises and movement-based relief, see part 3 in this series.

Like what you see? Check out What Moving Taught Me About Chronic Illness.