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New Knitter with Aching Hands

TEChh | Posted in Knitting and Crochet on

Hello All, I normally post over at Cooks Talk, but need some help with my knitting needles.

Last Sunday while Christmas shopping I found some yarn that I had to make into a scarf. My mother and grandmothers showed me how to knit and I picked it up within 2 hours including dinner. One grandmother has knitted for over 50 years, the other for about 40 and my mom learned as a Scottish school girl. Thus, I believe it’s in my blood.  

Anyway, after knitting for about 30 minutes my right hand just aches. Actually it’s more my fingers. I hold the needles in an upside down v- ^.  Can anyone offer me any suggestions, or help? I would like knitting to be a life long activity, and it’s a great way to help me relax, but this aching is driving me nuts.


  1. sewhat | | #1

    I know what you are talking about.  I used to knit all the time when my kids were growing up, and sometimes my pinky would ache.  It is a lot in the way you hold your needles.  I learned the "American" method, which I think is the same way you do.  Europeans knit with their needles up rather than down.  They don't have to drop the right needle to throw the yarn over, and seem to knit much faster.  My Mom had a friend who learned the "Irish" way, and I used to be amazed at how her needles would fly.  I tried to hold my needles that way, but it was so awkward since learning the other way that I ended up going back to the way I know.

    My best solution for the achiness is to use circular needles.  They cost a little more, but reduce the stress factor and achiness considerably.  The only problem with them is that the cable connecting the needlepoints tend to curl until you get a few inches of knit on them - -the weight of the yarn helps them straighten out.

    You might try it and see if it helps.

  2. SewingWriter | | #2

    You might try the compression gloves that are marketed to quilters.  Think of support hose for your hands.  I was skeptical, but arthritis forced me to try them.  They really do make a difference.  Hand-Eze is one brand name.

    -Stephanie Corina Goddard-                                                                        Author/Designer

    1. carolfresia | | #8


      Thanks for that tip on the gloves. I always thought they might be a gimmick, but on your recommendation I'll try them next time I'm on a knitting jag myself.


      1. SewingWriter | | #9

        Hi Carol,

        Knitting is only one activity where they make a difference.  I also use them when hand-sewing or working with graphics software. (Oh, the joys of middle age.......)  I think anyone who does a lot of keyboard work would find them helpful.

        Edited 12/22/2003 2:34:39 PM ET by SewingWriter

        1. carolfresia | | #10

          Hmmmm....can you wear them while playing piano or ukulele? Both of those, combined with heavy computer keyboard use, leave me with aching hands sometimes. I've been seriously thwarted in achieving my goal for the year of learning the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies on the uke. OK, I admit it, it's not just the aching hands that have caused me trouble with that. On a more practical level, I wonder if they would help out with things like snow shovelling and pruning the huge forsythias with loppers. We might have to move this discussion to "OVer the Fence" soon!Carol

          1. SewingWriter | | #11

            LOL Carol!  When somebody invents the "Body-Eze", I'll be first in line.  In the meantime, I'd settle for an upper-body glove for snow shoveling.

            P.S. I will never think of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies the same way again!!!!

          2. carolfresia | | #12

            I'm quite disappointed at not mastering the Sugarplums, because I had a deal with another editor here (who shall, for now, remain nameless), that if I learned to play the piece, he/she would wear a tutu and do the dance at the Taunton holiday party. Alas, that did not come to pass this December, but there's always 2004...esp. if I wear The Gloves.


          3. sanderson | | #14

             he/she would wear a tutu and do the dance at the Taunton holiday party

            Oh I hope that will be on this site...perhaps as a video greeting card?  I'll bet Taunton parties are a hoot! 

        2. Crafty_Manx | | #13

          Don't be touting middle age, I'm 23 and I have to wear support gloves for quilting, sewing, cake decorating (especially cake decorating), typing, and if I know I will be doing a lot of writing!  And they came to work with me the other day so I could have a steady hand when soldering components to a pc board!  Oh, the joys of early arthritis!  Seriously though, these things are life- and hand-savers.


  3. rjf | | #3

    Sometimes if I haven't crocheted for a while, I have that happen as well but after a few sessions, it seems to go away.  Maybe it's being tense because it's a new activity and it will go away after awhile.  How are you throwing the thread?  If you can use just your index finger, it might help.  And keeping the work on your lap might help also since you wouldn't have to support it as much.  I keep the needles pretty much in line straight across which is the way the needles seem to want to go.  If you're as obsessive as I am, you won't give up.  In that case. I'd stop once in awhile and soak my hands in warm water and really stretch and wiggle my fingers.  I think in a little while your hands will find the best way for you to work.  This afternoon, the knitting group I go to meets and I'll ask our leader if she has any good ideas.  She knits in the Swedish method, keeping the yarn in her left hand and scooping it up with the right needle but I haven't figured out how she does that and keeps the stitch from twisting but if I'm knitting with two colors, I can hold one color in each hand and do what she does and it seems to work.  Hmmmm. Sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it?       rjf

  4. stitchmd | | #4

    You've gotten great suggestions so far, I would like to add:

    Try wood, bamboo or plastic needles. They are softer on the grip. Try larger needles which are easier to hold.

    You will build strength in your hand muscles, but until then try working in shorter sessions, resting, massaging  and stretching out your hands intermittently, taking anti inflammatories like aspirin, tylenol, etc. even before you start working.

  5. ElonaM | | #5

    Hmm, unless you have a problem like arthritis or tendinitis, and if this is your first serious run at knitting, the likely problem is that you need to find a technique more comfortable and relaxed for you. I've known people who are so unconsciously tense when they start out that they give themselves cramps in the hand.

    Having done both styles of knitting, I'd say that the German style, with yarn held in the left hand, no "throwing" involved, is far less stressful to the joints of both hands. I've watched beginners starting out in the American style, and they kind of wind up holding the needles in a death grip while they try to bring that thread around to form a new stitch. There are little online video demos of how to do the European thing, and there are also longer videos you can buy. I think Nancie Wiseman offers one.

    Myself, I have tendinitis of the right thumb and wrist, and while knitting doesn't bother me at all, crocheting, with its high activity and complicated movements of the right hand and wrist, just kills me after a couple of hours. Haven't found an alternative method of crocheting, alas.

    1. TEChh | | #6

      Thanks everyone for your great suggestions. While I was knitting last night I noticed that my hand didn't ache as much as it did previously in the week. So, I'm hoping it will adjust with time.

      I look forward to learning many other things from you in time. Thanks Again.

    2. sewhat | | #7

      Elona, what you said makes perfect sense.  I wish I could retrain my knitting style and knit like the Europeans (German, Irish, Etc.) do.  I started knitting when I was 17 years old, and now I am 55.  Wow, that would be a lot of years of knitting style to undo.  I have arthritis in the joint of my right pinkie--probably because of improper position of that hand while knitting over the years.  I do think circular needles help a lot--I find when I use them that it doesn't require as much energy as supporting two straight needles, no matter what they are made. 

      As for the size of needles used, I think that is an individual thing.  My favorite knitting is with worsted weight using size 8 needles.  I really prefer plastic needles when using straight ones because they don't "click" so loud and slide easily, but they are hard to find anymore, at least where I live.  This is not exactly the "knitter's population" of the world, though.  We don't even have a specialty yarn shop. 

      Gosh, I haven't knitted for a while.  Talking about it is giving me the urge.  Got a new sewing machine and waiting for my new serger to be delivered, so my yarn and needles have hit the back burner for awhile.  If only there were more hours in the day. . .

  6. enidshapiro | | #15

    I had the same problem, and found that tension was really behind the ache.  Are you gripping the knitting needles too tightly?  Are you tensing the muscles in your arms without realizing it?  Also, be certain to hold your elbows close to your body, so that when you knit it looks like a "v."  That will help too. 

    1. TEChh | | #16

      Thanks Enid, for your suggestions. Since I posted that my hands were aching I've made 3 scarves and have had no more problems with my hands. I'm pretty sure that I was just holding the needles way to tight. Thanks for checking up on me.

  7. anneelsberry | | #17

    Another solution -- one that my mom and her ballet costume mistress friends came up with during Nutcracker this year -- one of those parafin wax heaters used for manicures. You did your hands in the warm wax then into insulated mitts. The warmth gets rid of the ache and as a bonus the parafin moisturizes your hands so they don't snag on the fabric.

    1. carolfresia | | #18

      Oh, we even have one here in the Threads office, which was sent in for review a couple of years ago (well-reviewed, by the way, for the reasons you cite). I should probably borrow it, esp. during this brutal cold snap. Thanks for the suggestion.  And don't mention it to anyone else on staff, OK, or I'll have competition!


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