Representing the creative future

Fashion & health: What is knitter’s back and how can you navigate the pain?

The pain behind knitwear and its effects on students’ career planning

As the nation continues to suffer under the pressure of a third lockdown, the rhythmic sound of clicking knitting needles are chiming in full force. Recognised for its soothing and therapeutic qualities, knitting has had a pandemic-induced demand, hooking masses on the craft. Yet as simplistic as a pair of needles and a ball of wool seem knitting can elicit a number of veiled health problems. Waves of blazing pain that radiates across the back and arms are stopping the most irrepressible of knitters, otherwise known as the dreaded knitter’s back. But for knitwear students, who work tirelessly to ensure a successful career, knitter’s back is proving to be more than a slight hitch.

“My lower back can feel extreme pain when machine knitting, along with the uncomfortable cramps I experience in my hands.” Elaine Lipp, currently studying Fashion Design with Knitwear at Central Saint Martins shares. Knitting with unyielding concentration, hunched over, repeating each stitch with surgeon-like precision, strains the shoulders and back, forcing the body into an unnatural position. Knitting can be a lengthy process, which can overuse and strain the upper muscle groups, leading to further musculoskeletal problems. More students are now discovering they are prematurely suffering from symptoms that afflict people twice their age, with little knowledge of the future consequences. Excessive knitting can put you at a greater risk of repetitive stress injuries, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even arthritis in rare cases. While knitters are so absorbed in their creation, pulling, twisting, and stretching their fabric, they often forget the distorted position their bodies are in, straining the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

When knitter’s back begins to surface, casual knitters have the comfort of taking an extended break. Yet for students studying on a Fashion knitwear course, searing pain becomes trivial in the race to meet impending deadlines.

When knitter’s back begins to surface, casual knitters have the comfort of taking an extended break. Yet for students studying on a Fashion knitwear course, searing pain becomes trivial in the race to meet impending deadlines and crossing the finishing line with a complete garment. Amongst Elaine Lipp’s anxieties, the most salient concern is the possibility of her back worsening and the interruption this may pose to her future career. “I struggle with lower back pain which I manage with yoga,” Lipp continues, “but I am concerned about the long term effects on my back, so I am planning on training my back muscles to combat any possible pain.” Across the capital at London College of Fashion, many knitwear students are also facing bouts of knitter’s back as Carolyn Clewer, Pathway Leader for Fashion Knit at the college states; “After many many hours at the domestic knitting machines, the students fight with backache, amongst difficulties that arise throughout the design process.”

If you are experiencing any symptoms associated with repetitive strain injury: numbness, pain, stiffness, cramp, and swelling, it is extremely important to seek treatment.

Gillian Yeh – a knitwear student from London College of Fashion – has attained numerous sores associated with fashion design. “My eyes are often fatigued and blurred after a long day,” Yeh says, “carrying heavy loads of material to university inflicts pressure on my arms, I often have to use a pain relief patch.” As innocent as needlework and fabric cutting may appear, just like knitting, overdone this too can provoke troublesome injuries. Substantial materials like Leather, require a great deal of force to cut and could possibly flare-up symptoms of repetitive strain injury. Intricate sewing – particularly under poor conditions – can lead to severe eye strain, resulting in burning eyes, headaches, and a sore neck.

If you are experiencing any symptoms associated with repetitive strain injury: numbness, pain, stiffness, cramp, and swelling, it is extremely important to seek treatment. Left untreated, repetitive strain injury can lead to constant pain and permanent damage. Knitters back can be dominating and debilitating, persevering through the pain as a student will inevitably narrow the duration of a thriving career. So, now it is crucial to protect your developing form and listen intently to every ache, sting, and stabbing your body sustains.

  1. Interlace your fingers and stretch your arms out in front of you, with your palms facing away from your body. Hold this pose for 10 seconds
  2. Keeping your fingers interlaced and your palms facing out, reach your arms over your head. Stretch up, up, and up until you can feel the stretch as far down as your upper rib cage. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds and breathe deeply.
  3. Make sure you have an appropriate chair that supports your lower back. This will reduce stress on the discs in your back as well as your muscles, which will help keep your neck in a neutral position.
  4. It’s not just your body you should consider; your environment is just as important. Knit in warm surroundings, cold conditions can cause the muscles to contract, resulting in tightness that is painful.
  5. Another way of eliminating back pain is enlisting the help of a tennis ball. Place the tennis ball against a wall and lean on it, massage the areas on your back that are painful by applying gentle pressure for 60-90 seconds each. This method is particularly effective at soothing and freeing knots on the back.
  6. Stand in a doorway and place your palms on either side of the doorframe. Place one foot in front of the other and lean your chest forward, you should feel it stretching. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat this twice daily.
  7. When hand knitting, place a pillow under each elbow and one under the project itself, this will reduce the weight of the knitting on your shoulders and fingers, preventing any further damage to your hands.
  8. Try to work in natural light. Working at night under a dimly lit lamp, arching over your knitting with trigger knitter’s back from poor posture.
  9. A cold compress can help reduce swelling in the shoulder and numb sharp pain. Apply a frozen gel pack for 10 minutes at a time. As an alternative use a bag of frozen peas or wrap a plastic bag of ice cubes in a towel. Never apply a cold pack directly to the skin, always use a barrier.
  10. If you are experiencing wrist pain, fill your sink or a large glass with ice and water and submerge your wrist for 30 seconds every minute for 10 minutes straight. Ice baths are an efficient way of cooling down the muscles and tendons, reducing inflammation.

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