Carpal Tunnel or RSI? Let's talk differences!

A little background first...

Hey, guys! I know it's been awhile since I've posted in A Knitter's Guide to Pain Management. Many circumstances of my life, both personal and professional, have taken over and been all-consuming as of late. However, on a trip to The Last Bookstore this weekend, I came across an amazing, super goofy book in the health section entitled It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! RSI Theory and Therapy for Computer Professionals and was totally inspired! After reading through it, I thought many of the theories and practices could easily be applied to the knitter or crocheter. So this week we are going to talk about the difference between signs of Carpal Tunnel and RSI in the avid knitter and crocheter. As I always state in my posts, if you are experiencing pain please seek advice from your doctor before trying any physical therapy or stretches that could further harm your injury.

What is RSI?

RSI or Repetitive Strain Injury is defined in a multitude of ways. It's a term that has not been well defined in the medical community, and often gets dismissed as doctors can be eager to jump to a Carpal Tunnel diagnosis. For me, the best way to describe RSI is a disorder caused by a combination of muscle and nerve damage due to repetitive motion in the hands, arms or shoulders (the upper extremity) often found in avid computer users, or in my case, knitters. RSI causes pain, fatigue in the stressed area, numbness and loss of strength. RSI and carpal tunnel can often be mistaken for one another because the symptoms are extremely similar!!

RSI vs Carpal Tunnel

So these two are constantly getting mistaken for one another, but what is the actual difference? Carpal Tunnel has to do with the compression of the median nerve *SPECIFICALLY* in the wrist. You may be feeling numbness and tingling in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and the thumb side of the ring fingers, lose the ability to grip objects and have some pain in your arms. RSI sufferers may have pain in their wrists (I definitely do), but that is usually due to other problems that stem from injuries or muscle/nerve damage in all areas across the upper extremity. I was diagnosed with early signs of Carpal Tunnel and was given wrist braces to use while knitting. After a few months of using the braces and thinking I was getting better, I started noticing new pain developing in my neck and shoulder blades. My wrists were being stabilized during the repetitive motion of knitting, and I had adjusted the rest of my body to work around that and basically was trying to protect my wrists by screwing with my posture and making things a lot worse for myself. 

I went to another GP who tested me for Carpal Tunnel and told me he saw no signs of it but did see signs of RSI. I had pain in my forearms, neck, clavicle and lower back. I did have numbness but not in the correct areas of my hands to point towards the compression of the median nerve! I was NOT knitting ergonomically and it was definitely time to make some serious lifestyle changes. 

What can be done?

Luckily, we don't all have to suffer through life this way! There are a few major players when it comes to preventing further injury. 

Identification & Prevention

The best thing for any person who holds a job or hobby that requires the same motion for 50+ hours a week is to recognize that and accept that it could be taking a toll on your body. When it comes to knitting, you should NEVER be knitting for even TWO hours straight. Take frequent breaks to break up that repetitive motion, stand up, walk around, do a couple sun salutations, stretch out those wrists, and then continue on with your project!

If you are starting to notice pain in your wrists, fingers, neck or any part of your upper extremity while knitting, it might be time to look into RSI! If you can catch it early, all you may have to do is some light stretching, develop your upper arm and core strength, posture or style changes for your knitting (switch from Continental to English, or vice versa). If it goes ignored, you may start to feel muscle inflammation on a daily basis. 

RSI is caused by working in a repetitive fashion over a long period of time (years). Your muscles become accustomed, they lock up in whatever position you're knitting in, causing your body to collapse forward and adjust itself from its normal posture. Do you find yourself knitting for hours and realize your head is almost touching your hands, your neck extended as far as it can go or your arms way up higher than they should be? Do you keep your hands in your lap as you knit with your neck pointed down, chin touching it? All of these are BAD habits to form as knitters. 

Finding a Solution

Next week we will discuss different, correct postures for knitters to use to PREVENT RSI from occurring and relieve the current RSI sufferer, such as myself! In the meantime, check out the benefits of switching up your style, or do a little digging into Portuguese Knitting, which can help align posture and prevent knitting fatigue. 

See you next week!