You can’t knit if your hands are numb.

What could it be now?

This is something I’ve been progressively learning over the last few years. You don’t want to read a recounting of my medical history, so I’ll summarize it like this: I overdid things with my hands by using my computer and mouse, hand quilting, knitting and spinning over the last 15 years. Despite ergonomic changes in my work and leisure habits and the nightly wearing of wrist braces, they hurt, occasionally were numb and sometimes I’d wake up with pain that felt like I’d dipped my hand in a pot of boiling oil. No exaggeration. The official diagnosis of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome came a few months ago after a nerve conduction test.

I’m not going to go into the pros and cons of the cortisone shots I chose to have, because I’m not a doctor [and please, no lectures in the comments. I know people are polarized about this issue]. But I will say that my right hand — my dominant hand and the one that hurt worst — has taken much longer to recover from the cortisone shot than I expected. The whole thing was a little bit of a comedy of errors which included me almost fainting from the first shot and the doctor kind of forgetting to tell me about the acute pain I’d have for the next 24-48 hours. Yup.

I’ve also been seeing an Osteopath for several months, and I credit her with the marked improvement I felt about halfway through the healing process from the shot. More on her kind of Osteopathy can be found here.

Anyway, here we are, almost a month later, and the news is pretty good.The left hand [the one that made me almost faint] was better 3 days after the shot. The right hand is almost there…and the best news of all? I’ve been knitting.

Before I had this shot, I hadn’t knit with pleasure for months. Every time I’d pick it up, my hands would be numb in minutes and there’s no pleasure in that. Now, I have to be super-attentive to my body and stop if something feels funky. I’m alternating work with knitting or rest, so that I don’t overdo it in any one area. And without pushing myself, I knit myself something I’ve been wanting ever since we published it. The picture at the top is a hint*.

I’ve written this post mostly to tell you to listen to your body. Overdoing it may eventually cause you to be unable to do what you love. So take it easier. Be kind to your body and especially your hands.

*More on this on Knitty Friday.

(191 Posts)

30 thoughts on “You can’t knit if your hands are numb.

  1. Cat

    Glad you can knit again! There’s nothing worse than not being able to enjoy your favourite hobby. (I should know, I often have tendonitis in my arms!)

  2. Cora Shaw

    I definitely agree, in the urge to finish that _________ insert whatever in the blank we forget to listen to our bodies. I often alternate between the computer, knitting and crocheting (yes I am bi-fiberly) I love both. I find that I can’t crochet for any length of time anymore though, but I do enjoy it. I work mainly on dolls and toys now and the occasional large item, such as my dog’s new pet bed.

    Take care Amy. Oh and cortisone was suggested for my shoulder (injured after a car accident) and I am still unsure as to whether I want to do that or not. I am in so much pain and I am unable to take NSAIDS due to kidney insufficiency. Glad you can finally enjoy your knitting again. Remember only you and your dr know what is best for you.


    1. Amy

      I put off cortisone for 15 years, because you can only have so many doses. I don’t regret getting the shots, but wish my doc hadn’t been so (what? scattered? distracted by my fainting?) at the appt so that I’d been better warned. And if you get it, don’t let them send you home without some sort of GOOD painkiller for the first day or so.

  3. Becky

    I have had this problem also, along with neck issues that cause pain to shoot down my arms. It’s awful not to be able to do your favorite thing: knitting. I recommend acupuncture. I have had great success with this. Good luck!

    1. Amy

      I tried acupuncture with no results. It’s been great for other things, just not this.

      1. Peggy Voakes

        I had to stop knitting and quilting(and everything else right-handed) a year and a half ago due to tendinitis. I tried everything non-invasive(except cortisone, which I found out years ago doesn’t last in my body long enough to justify the pain.)Nothing worked, although acupuncure made me feel calm and peaceful. My chiro then told me there was a surgery to correct this and I signed up immediately. Anybody want to arm-wrestle? So, the point, if they suggest surgery, Amy, don’t be afraid to do it!

  4. Kirsti

    I had terrible CTS in college, due mostly to many many hours playing piano, bassoon, and typing (this was pre-knitting). My dr. had me do a long series of anti-inflammatories/rest/ice to get the swelling under control and then I did physical therapy (and still do those exercises) when things were under control. Thankfully, it’s in much better shape now, though I am still at the piano a good 4-6 hours a day and at my computer for another 4…and then there is knitting. I do have days where I can’t stitch, but you are totally right: LISTENING TO YOUR BODY MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

    Hope you are well soon.

  5. Sharon in Surrey

    Oh yeah, I can relate. Screwed up the right thumb doing ordinary things that didn’t affect the left thumb at all. Pain. Misery. Burning pain down the middle finger – its amazing what you need a thumb & middle finger for besides knitting!!! Terrified of shots – especially THAT one! But, I hung in there & am now knitting a little after TWO weeks!! Is this what we have to look forward to in the Golden Years???

  6. Lynae

    Glad to hear it’s all getting better. If you (and he) are at SS 2011, try to schedule Carson. Demer’s ergonomic class. That helped too. I took my own advice that I gave you on Twitter and my hands feel so much better also. Trying to avoid another surgery here.

  7. Seanna Lea

    It’s great advice. I don’t tend to get hand pain, but I have sat knitting (or reading) in one position for so long that I’ve hurt my back. It’s just so easy to overdo!

  8. ana

    i am glad you’re feeling better. just a few weeks ago, i wrote about my hands and all they do and listening to my body better. i wont link it here for fear of sounding spammy, but it’s on my blog. our hands do so much, and as much as we appreciate that, we don’t really fully feel it til we’re unable to do the very things we love.

  9. dclulu

    So glad it’s getting better! I got terrible Carpal Tunnel Syndrome during my first pregnancy, and it only got worth after I gave birth. I ended up having cortisone shots 3 months later — guess I was lucky because they did the trick and I didn’t have lingering pain afterwards! Or at least not that I remember. I was still in that sleep-deprived newborn haze…

  10. Cheryl

    Amy, I’m so glad that you can knit again and are feeling better. I was like this for about 9 months; acupuncture worked for me but my right wrist will always be weak and need more rest.

  11. Julia Farquhar

    Many congratulations to you for admitting that knitting sometimes does, hurt, occasionally a *lot*. I suspect it’s easier for knitters to hear this from you than it would be from someone like me, so thanks for posting this reminder for all of us.

    While I think of it, congrats to your osteo for her good work (and thanks for the props for my profession!).

    Three cheers for your re-entry into knitting!

  12. Adriene

    It’s funny how we push away the pain and health issues when we pick up our hooks and needles. I will even sometimes not drink water until I finish a repeat. What’s up with that? It’s not good… it’s how I almost had an anaphylactic reaction to some yarn I was working with – I just kept ignoring the symptoms.

    So glad to hear things are on the up with your wrists! And do take care of them… you’d hate to lose the ability to squish yummy skeins!

  13. Renee

    After a bike accident messed up the hand I use the most, surgery and rehab for more than 6 months, I realized that in most ways, I am just a pair of hands with incidental pieces attached. I try to be much more thoughtful, considering how much I still use (and overuse) them. Sorry to hear about your injury and hope the recovery is fast and permanent.

  14. Moondancer5

    I’m so sorry for all the pain you’ve been going through. I hope you continue to improve, and thank you for the advice.

    We all need to hear it, and we tend to forget when everything feels okay to keep things balanced.

  15. Deb in central CA

    Glad to hear your hands are feeling better. Mine occasionally get numb but that is because I tend to knit propped up in bed and I sometimes put pressure on them the wrong way.

    Can I guess that what you are knitting is Annis? It looks much prettier than the progress I am making so far but that is what I am guessing it is.

  16. Louise Mantel

    I gave myself carpal tunnel syndrome by obsessing over a knitting project. When I wised up to what was happening, I gave up knitting for a whole year, wore the wrist braces at night, and actually managed to recover. When I started knitting again, I knit just two rows and put the project down for a few hours. Now I’m fine and can knit for hours in a day.

    Hang in there! You’ll get over this hurdle.

  17. Julie

    Amy, I can so relate to your tale of CTS woe. I’ve had cortisone shots (didn’t work for me 🙁 ) and acupuncture (limited success), and finally had surgery – which actually was like a miracle.

    I have to take a break about every 20 minutes from knitting, typing on the computer, any activity that uses my hands intensively, which is just about everything I do!

    You are so right about listening to your body, and understanding that it’s worth doing whatever will help to restore the fun to your favorite activities.

  18. Srivandana

    I am relieved to hear that you were able to move through the painful treatment and are able to knit again. I have osteo-arthritis in my hands and find knitting and crochet to be vital therapies. If I don’t knit/crochet my hands become very stiff and painful and likewise if I do too much. There is something about finding a kind of balance in terms of what is helpful or unhelpful and that takes an alert mind and increased awareness. May your good health continue.

  19. Melise

    I was experiencing numbness and pain in my pinky finger. My doctor told me that it was related to an earlier rotator cuff injury (no matter what the dog whisperer says, don’t try to teach your dog to walk on a treadmill), and wanted to give me cortisone shots as well. Before I did that though (I also blacked out from a cortisone shot once), I went to my chiropractor, who is more like an osteopath than a standard chiropractor. He was able to adjust my spine, and work on tightness in my neck and upper back. After about 1.5 months of weekly treatments, my hands were fine again, and my shoulder, which had never stopped hurting from the “rotator cuff” injury was completely healed. I think alot of it is just finding someone who understands how all the systems in your body effect each other, and who can help you to work with the entire body, not just the place where you are feeling the symptoms.

    Good luck!

  20. allison/otr

    Thanks for your story. I am an Occupational Therapist a spinner and a knitter I recently screwed up my elbow and am in a ice/rest/compression mode. I want to knit but am holding back to keep my left elbow from getting inflamed again. Good luck to you

  21. Amy

    If this is a common injury to needlework and fiber artists, does this make knitting a sport? 😉 Glad you’re feeling better!

  22. Marianne

    I too have that problem along with RA in my fingers. I wear knitted hand warmers to bed and during the day. What a difference they made! No more waking up to two ‘dead’ hands. I read an article about splinting the thumbs at night so I put my pinky in the thumb hole at night and leave my thumb with the other fingers in the hand warmer. It works well.

  23. Jo

    I too have CTS from many years of playing piano, hours at the computer, knitting, crocheting, etc. Have gone through cortisone injections twice now with some relief, but not completely. Probably looking at surgery down the road, but still haven’t given up on any of my “needlework” projects.

  24. Barb

    I struggle with waking up with numb and tingling in the hands. I have learned to use a brace when I knit and to watch my time and to stretch. I do more smaller knitting, socks, lace, ect and smaller projects because I can knit longer. Shots don’t sound fun, hopefully I can avoid that. We need to listen to our bodies thats for sure.

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