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When Crafting Hurts: Repetitive Stress Injuries

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Once upon a time, I was a knitter. Not a great knitter, but a voracious one. One week, I set to work knitting an afgan. Knit, knit, knit. I’d come home from my office job where I worked as a writing, and knit, knit, knit. Until suddenly, everything when haywire. 

Almost overnight, my wrists started burning with a deep pain, my fingers went tingly and numb, and pretty soon my elbows followed suit. I stopped knitting, got more ergonomic supports at work, bought drug-store wrist braces and wore them all day and all night. Still, there were a few weeks where I couldn’t even chop up vegetables to cook or carry a travel mug to work - the pain was that bad. 

Since I’m an idiot, I googled it, and self-diagnosed as Carpal Tunnel. I figured there was nothing doctors could do, so i didn’t go. People, don’t do that. Ok?  Please? Thanks. I don’t know if a doctor could have helped, but I wish I’d tried. 

That once upon a time? It was 7 years ago. And my arms have hurt every day since. 

The first 7 months were the worst - because I was working as a writer, I had to type all day. I’d take a secret break midday and listen to the radio while pretending to work, and bring in my own laptop when using the mouse hurts too bad. Luckily, when that contract ended and i went to teacher’s college, the symptoms dulled and become more like tendonitis. Around that time I had some testing done, and saw a surgeon. They gave me meds off and on for years, but nothing changed. 

Cut to 3 years later. I’d gotten used to using dictation software to write my report cards, and figured out ways to ask my students to do things that I couldn’t. I still slept in braces, and iced my wrists often. But when my husband found me crying about it, he decided it was time to stop accepting it and find a way to get better. 

And you know what? Thank goodness he did. I went to see a doctor who told me quite calmly in Japanese that I’d never get better, and looked at me funny when I bawled. Trying to appease me, he said I could try physio therapy. And hallelujah - within 3 months I was 90% better, and able to live normally again! 

Now tell the truth: How many of you have a similar story? I’ve been talking to quite a few people on Twitter lately who admitted to having some degree of RSI at some point, either from cutting, knitting, or sewing big projects. I think there might be quite a few of use who have just accepted that the hobbies we love sometimes cause discomfort… but I’ve learned the hard way that pushing through that initial pain can have serious repercussions.

Talking to my tweeps, some people improved with rest; others favour yoga or chiropractors; some are just living with it. Since I was lucky enough to find a physiotherapist who helped me, I thought I pass on the good karma:  Later this week I’ll post a couple how-to videos of the exercises that helped me. I hope they’ll help someone else too!

Have you ever had pain from crafting? Did it go away, or become chronic? I’d love to hear your stories! If nothing else, I hope that sharing ours experiences can help someone else recognize the warning signs and step away before it’s too late! :) 

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