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How to look after your hands!

As many of you are aware, I’m actually a fully qualified physiotherapist and in my ‘day job’ I do what I can to help people stay healthy, preventing pains from developing, then dealing with them if they do develop! Until now my physio and craft brains have worked separately, but I thought I would share some of what I know in a series of blogs to help you all prevent or manage any stitching related issues!

For the first in the series, we are going to look at your hands!

The hands are a crafters greatest tool and the dexterity we have is what makes our art so unique. Even when following a pattern, our finished products can turn out so differently with different tensions, different direction preferences etc.

What we also know, however, is that very few crafts are quick, and very few crafters only do crafting for a short period. Once you start, its difficult to stop and often you find your craft projects in your hands most evenings and weekends, often for hours at a time. Who hasn’t picked a box set to watch when starting a new project and suddenly found themselves 4 seasons in, in the space of 3 days??

While many people who have crafted for years have developed pains and problems, they don’t know what we know now! And what we know now can help us prevent most pains and keep crafting into our most twilight of years!

The main problems with stitching that can impact the health of our hands, wrists and forearms are...

1) The prolonged positions. Our muscles, joints, and nerves all love movement, particularly varied movement! Prolonged positions can lead to joint stiffness, muscles becoming sensitive to other movements (therefore feeling ‘tight’) and reduced oxygen supply to nerves can lead to increased nerve sensitivity.

2) The repetitive nature of what we do. The repetitive use of our muscles, in the same way, over and over again for hours, is difficult for our muscles to cope with and often takes a lot of strength and endurance.

So what are my tips?

1. Take breaks, little and often!

Think of it like sets of an exercise at the gym. Someone might do 10 squats, then have a 30s rest before doing another 10 squats to allow the body to recover. When stitching, we need recovery time. So for every 40minutes of stitching, take a break of 5minutes. While you would be fine to have shorter breaks more frequently than that, longer breaks more rarely would defeat the purpose!

Use your breaks for a whole-body activity break mixing and matching from movement and stretch activities such as….

  • Walking up and down the stairs twice (taking the steps two at a time if you can!)

  • Standing and sitting from your chair as many times as you can in 1minute (without using your hands if you can!)

  • Forward/upwards punches as fast as you can for 1 minute

  • Upper back stretch – hands on the back of your head, push your chest forward, elbows wide and look up!

  • Shoulder stretch – interlock your fingers in front of you, turn your palms to face away from you, push your hands forward so your elbows are straight, then lift your arms up so your palms are pushing towards the ceiling.

  • Forearm stretches – stick your arm out in front of you palm facing down, bend your wrist down so your fingers are pointed at the floor, then use your other hand to pull your hand back towards you to increase the stretch. Repeat with your palm facing up.

  • Hand stretches – stretch your fingers and thumbs as wide as you can!

  • Thumb stretches – stretch your thumb backwards.

All stretches need to be held for a minimum of 20seconds to make a difference, and make sure you only push it to the point you feel a pull, NOT pain!

2. Get strong!

Doing some form of general strengthening exercise, including grip strength exercises, and help you to build the strength and endurance needed to cope with the demands of stitching. You don’t need gym equipment for this and can even use household items! You could try lifting shopping bags with tins in, or wringing out a wet towel. Try to build strength with heavy weights but a low number of reps, and build endurance with low weight exercises but a high number of reps.

(Love this guy!!)

This only needs to take 30minutes, twice a week to build the strength you need!

3. Analyse what can cause discomfort

It may be that there is one thing in particular that can cause some discomfort in the hands. Is it mainly when you do a certain stitch type? Is it when you are tucking the stitches in at the end? Is it when you’re stitching in a certain part of the hoop so you hold your hoop slightly differently? Or is it when the light changes and causes you to change your posture.

Once you have made a note of your triggers, try to plan your work to minimise your exposure to this activity. Can you move your embroidery hoop? Rearrange the furniture to optimise lighting? Or chop and change between activities that can cause discomfort and those that don’t? This use of task rotation is another form of providing recovery breaks!

4. Use a hoop stand

Hoop stands are fab for reducing the strain of your hands. Instead of holding the embroidery hoop, you can relax this hand and use it to help the working hand.

There are some great affordable options available such as this one from Hawthorne Handmade. If you use a hoop stand and are happy to share the model that helps you, please post a link in the comments below!

5. Use heat

A hot water bottle or wheatbag can help reduce pain, reduce joint stiffness, and reduce nerve sensitivity. These little handwarmers by Meelie Moon are just too cute!

If you have any worsening pain, or symptoms that are preventing you from doing what you love, I would absolutely recommend a consultation with a physiotherapist who can discuss your individual situation and provide an individualised plan to help you get on top of those symptoms!

If you have any tips you are happy to share, comment below!


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