Exercises for knitters and sitters: stretch and strengthen to avoid injuries

When I’m not at the gym, I can often be found curled up on the couch with a pot of tea and my knitting.

exercises for knitters

Yes. I knit. A lot. (fitKNITchick; get it?)

If you have to ask how much ‘a lot’ is, you aren’t a knitter (or sewer or quilter or handicrafter of any type). However, even if  you don’t spend your time ‘crafting’, this post may still be relevant to you. In particular, if you spend a significant amount of time on the computer or with your handheld device (blogging, texting, surfing, YouTubing…).

Knitters and other types of ‘sitters’ share many of the same seated postural patterns;

  • anterior pelvic tilt
  • round shoulders
  • forward jutting chin
  • hands elevated above elbows
  • perpetually flexed fingers
  • overstretched lower backs

Over time, these less-than-ideal postures can result in back pain, joint stiffness, headache, tendonitis and other repetitive strain injuries including carpal tunnel syndrome; all conditions which will eventually limit how often you can engage in your favourite crafting (or on-line) activity.

Now I’ve been knitting since I was 8 and I plan on being that little old lady sitting on the park bench knitting her grandchild a baby blanket when I’m 80. Knitting-related injuries are not part of my game plan. Here’s are some exercises for knitters (and sitters) to help prevent repetitive strain injuries:

  • take frequent breaks. Every 10-15 minutes, I put my knitting aside, get up and walk around the room.
  • change sitting locations. I rotate between my favourite armchair, the couch, a straight back chair and the lawn chair in my ‘knitting’ garden. Stability balls also make great chairs, although perhaps not when one is wielding a sharp instrument.
  • practice mindful posture. Remind yourself to pull your tummy in, retract your chin and rotate your shoulders back and down. If you have a hard time remembering these cues, write them down on a sticky note and leave it where you can see it (I used to leave one on my steering wheel after I caught a glimpse of my ghastly driving posture).
  • exercise and stretch your entire body regularly. Keeping your body in good working condition will help prevent all sorts of injuries, including postural ones.

Prevention too late for you? Already suffering from one of the injuries or strains described above? Here are some stretching and strengthening exercises for knitters that can help get you back to doing what you love quickly.

  • improve your upper and mid back strength with bent over rows and reverse flys. Practice scapular retraction by ‘sitting’ against a wall with shoulder blades held back and down (great for strengthening your legs at the same time!).
  • strengthen the back of your shoulders. Perform long arm lateral raises and upright rows using light dumbbells (or no dumbbells at all if the muscles are really weak).
  • build a stronger core. Weak abs and lower back muscles will prevent you from comfortably maintaining an upright posture. Try planks, side planks, back extensions and anti-rotation holds to improve your core’s ability to stabilize your spine.
  • improve wrist and forearm strength. Try reverse bicep curls and wrist curls using light weights.
  • build a stronger butt. Your glutes help to hold your pelvis in a neutral position. Stronger glutes can help to counteract the anterior pelvic tilt caused by tight hip flexors.
  • stretch out tight chest and front shoulder muscles. My favourite chest opener is the door jamb stretch. Downward facing dog or half dog are also great options.
  • stretch fingers and wrist joints every time you take a break. Fully extend and flex each finger. Using the opposite hand, carefully press fingers back towards wrist (hyper-extension). Rotate wrists both clockwise and counterclockwise.

Find more stretch and strengthening exercises for knitters and specific repetitive strain injuries in Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Other Repetitive Strain Injuries: A Self-Care Program. Written by a massage therapist, this book organizes repetitive strain injuries according to profession (different types of injuries are more common amongst certain professions) and provides rehabilitative suggestions for many common RSI’s.

Have you ever experienced an injury due to repetitive strain or poor posture?

What did you do to treat the injury? And did the treatment work?