I tend to overdo things. When I’m interested in a subject I will eat, breathe, and live every single minute detail and then some. Crochet has been no different for me, if anything it’s been more engrossing than anything I have been passionate about before. I love reading about it, looking at it, writing about it, and doing it!
I began having problems early in 2018. I would occasionally experience pain and stiffness only in the right elbow but that began to change as the months wore on. By spring of of that year the pain was waking me up at night and doing normal everyday activities began causing me a lot of discomfort. Gripping items like a hairbrush caused lightening bolt pain to radiate up and down my arms.
For months I tried to ignore it. I tried a few home remedies but nothing worked. Finally I went to the orthopedic doctor. He diagnosed me with Tennis Elbow, or tendonitis. He recommended a shot of cortisone in the joint might help with pain and advised that I take some time to rest. The injection itself was fairly painful, and I say this as a woman who has given birth with no anesthesia! It wasn’t horrific but it was definitely uncomfortable. By the next day I was actually regretting having the injection done because I was feeling a good bit of pain. By day three the discomfort was noticeably better. A week later I claimed that I was completely healed and went right back to crocheting 24/7.
Approximately three months later the trouble with my elbow was worse than ever. Everyday activities were even more difficult and I was now emotionally worn out and discouraged. Something that brought so much joy to my life was now causing so much harm. I reluctantly went back to the orthopedic doctor. He recommended that I begin physical therapy and that’s when my condition finally began to improve.
The following suggestions are what I learned from the physical therapist I worked with. She was very knowledgeable about repetitive motion injuries and how to heal them. I am so grateful for her wisdom and understanding! I hope you find something that you can apply to your own life to either help heal tendonitis or help prevent it.
This was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. I did not want to put my crochet hooks down for any reason, but eventually the physical therapist convinced me that I would never get better if I didn’t. What surprised me was that I didn’t have to put them down for days, weeks, or months at a time. She just recommended that I only pick them up for a max of a couple of hours a day and to take breaks. This seemed very reasonable to me and I began implementing this right away. I stopped the marathon crochet sessions late into the night. I started taking breaks every thirty minutes or so. If I could only recommend one suggestion this would be it!
When my physical therapist first examined my arm she noted all the knots up and down my forearm, around my elbow, and up my tricep. These knots are caused by tight muscles and tissue bunching up and causing pain. During my crochet breaks my PT encouraged me to stretch. I would stretch my wrists, elbows, chest, forearms, and back muscles. As with most things, in the beginning I would overstretch and cause pain and more damage. My PT taught me that stretching should never hurt. Push to the point where you feel the stretch but not to the point of discomfort.
This is my second most important suggestion. After putting ice packs on my elbows following crochet sessions I began noticing considerable improvement right away! This was the hardest thing for me to remember to do, but I also believe it made a huge difference in my recovery from tendonitis. I used simple gel packs from Walmart and always kept one in the freezer so that I could apply it at any time.
Identify what triggers your pain. While listening to a BHooked podcast about different types of yarn I learned that cotton could be part of my problem. (You can read more about that here: Saying Goodbye to my Beloved Cotton Yarn) I switched to wool and wool blend yarns and began to notice a big difference right away. During my physical therapy treatment I tried using cotton yarn again and immediately began feeling that familiar pain. I haven’t picked it back up even though I absolutely love the look and feeling of quality cotton yarns.
You can read more about my favorite podcasts here: My Favorite Handmade Business Podcasts
I also identified that holding my dog’s leash was causing problems as well. My physical therapist recommended using a different type of leash that I could wrap around my forearm rather than by holding the handle on the type we have.
Crocheting was definitely the main trigger for my tendonitis but there were other factors that were contributing to it. Really begin to notice what could be causing pain, even if it seems too small to be the culprit. You might be surprised what little things you are doing in your own life that could be causing problems!
My physical therapist used a metaphor that helped me to see more clearly the objectives we were trying to achieve through strength training. She compared crocheting to running. Just running improves your cardio condition and endurance levels but to prevent injury you need to strength train. The muscles you use to crochet need to be strengthened to prevent injury down the road.
My preferred way to gain strength is through yoga. Many people think of yoga as more of a stretching activity, but upper body strengthening is a key component. I regularly practice gentle yoga through the YouTube series Yoga with Adriene. There are a few poses that do cause pain in my elbows and wrists so I adapt them or skip them altogether. For the most part it has been the easiest way for me to gain the strength I need and stretch tight muscles caused by crocheting.
“Dry needling is also called trigger point dry needling or myofascial trigger point dry needling. It is done by acupuncturists, some chiropractors, medical doctors, and some physical therapists (PTs) to treat myofascial pain. The word “myofascial” is made up of the roots “myo” (which refers to muscle) and “fascia” (which refers to the tissue that connects muscle).
Muscles sometimes develop knotted areas called trigger points. These trigger points are highly sensitive and can be painful when touched. They are also often the cause of referred pain (or pain that affects another part of the body). Clinicians push thin solid needles through the skin into trigger points. The needles are used to stimulate the tissue, not to inject medication.” – Cleveland Clinic
Dry needling is not something I was particularly looking forward to. Thankfully I’m not afraid of needles, but they aren’t my favorite either! Dry needling was done during my physical therapy appointments and was one of the best things I did to help heal my tendonitis. The sessions were $30 each and were well worth every penny. The physical therapist explained that inflammation is not always a bad thing. By injecting the needles into specific trigger points she was causing controlled inflammation. She explained that bringing fresh blood into the area would help the healing process. I’m so glad that I didn’t let the fear of a little additional pain prevent me from doing this treatment. It did cause discomfort at times, especially when she would tap the bone with the needle. When she would pinpoint a particularly good area my muscles would spasm! She always got excited when that happened because it was a sign that she had gotten the right spot!
This is the absolute hardest part. I can be a very impatient person and want problems to be fixed yesterday. Tendonitis definitely taught me that healing takes time. Typically there are no easy fixes, especially if you wait a long time to deal with a problem. My current strategy is to prevent tendonitis from happening in the first place. I work really hard to rest, stretch, ice, and strengthen routinely so that I keep my joints healthy for years of healthy crocheting!
I hope you find some of these suggestions helpful! I would love to hear about some of your own tips for keeping your joints healthy for crocheting and knitting!