After anti-inflammatory drugs and wrist braces proved unsuccessful at treating the pain, New’s doctor told her something that would leave most makers in a cold sweat — she simply had to stop using her hands.
New decided to ease up on the time she spent in front of her computer, leaving her writing gig at Craftsy to focus on Lucky Lucille.
“My personal blog obviously suffered when I couldn’t sew or knit as much, therefore I wasn’t creating new content to merit new blog posts,” New says. “My daily page views really dwindled during that time. In an effort to cut out as much extra typing as possible, I stopped engaging in social media and responding to blog comments. I felt a real disconnect with my readers, which I’m still working to regain. I also closed my online shop, since I wasn’t able to sew new products. A year later, I’m still evaluating how to make that income back without subjecting my wrists to the repetition of assembly line sewing, which gets physically taxing very quickly. I’m considering selling PDF patterns for the handmade items I used to sell, which is a lot of computer work up front, but less physically demanding in the long run.”
If New’s story sounds familiar, or brings up worries because you run a business that depends on a repetitive movements — including time spent managing your Etsy shop and posting to social media — we’ve gathered some expert tips to help prevent and cope with injuries that are common for crafters.
With fine, detailed work such as quilting, crafters will see more problems in the hands, while larger crafts, such as weaving on a loom, may cause pain in the larger arm joints, says Amini, who currently serves as director of professional development for the American Occupational Therapy Association in Bethesda, Maryland.
“Sometimes problems are brought on by the prolonged and repeated nature of the activity,” Amini says. “Other times, pain may be due to the pressure used on the body to complete the activity. For example, I enjoy making quilted balls at Christmastime. I need to insert over 100 straight pins into each ball through multiple layers of fabric. By the end of the season, I find that the base of my pushing thumb is painful. Not using a thimble can also lead to pain on the tip of my thumb.”
If someone already has a problem, and the motions that they do while crafting are similar to what they do while they’re on the computer or cell phone, the symptoms of a repetitive stress injury may be exacerbated, Amini says.
“After figuring out the trigger, I had to find a way to either moderate the workload, or find a different way to take the skeins from the dye set-up to being pretty and useable,” Berry says.
After trying compression gloves and ice, Berry saw a chiropractor, who recommended exercises to strengthen her wrist and the muscles surrounding them.
Taking a break has also made a big improvement — Berry recently hired other women to do a large portion of the winding, and now makes sure to help them avoid injury by using different techniques. One woman uses a device called a niddy-noddy that winds yarn into hanks.
“My wrist pain comes and goes now depending on the movements that I may do over and over again, but it’s now tolerable,” Berry says.
Preventing pain has a lot to do with the specific activity you engage in, but Amici has some general recommendations:
- Support your lower and upper back when performing an activity that involves long periods of sitting.
- Try not to hold your head forward to look down at your work for hours on end; try to bring your work up on a table, resting your arms on the table surface so that your shoulders aren’t holding up your arms.
- While you’re resting, be careful not to let the edge of the surface rest on your forearms. This may block your circulation and lead to tingling or numbness.
- Try to reduce the amount of time spent on one activity. If a craft has multiple steps, try to rotate though them, so one set of joints and muscles is not being overworked. Take a break for 10 minutes every hour by getting up, walking around and stretching.
- Use larger tools instead of smaller ones whenever possible. For activities that require force and repetition, try to use power tools, such as power screwdrivers or cutting devices. Certain tools, such as pliers or wire cutters, should be made for your hand size or ergonomically designed.
- Cut down on repetitive movements and forceful grasping, and use larger joints to get work done whenever possible. For example, it’s better to stand to use your forearm to turn a screwdriver versus sitting and using your wrist.