There is nothing more satisfying than completing an embroidering or other type of needlework hand stitching project from start to finish and seeing the tangible, finished product that you’ve created, especially when you love to sew. It’s important to realize, though, that the repetitive tasks involved with needlework can cause hand and wrist injuries. The actual name of the injury is called “repetitive stress injury” (RSI). Most likely you’ve heard of this, but just in case you haven’t, let me introduce you to it. Repetitive stress injury is caused when someone performs the same tasks over and over. The repetition causes strain on the muscles and tendons in the part of your body that performs the repetitive tasks. This stress causes inflammation and discomfort that can become so acute that the only way to relieve the discomfort is to totally stop the offending tasks until the body heals.
Repetitive movements, such as those hand and wrist movements associated with embroidery and hand stitching, can cause RSI. Generally, needlework embroidery and hand stitching involves the repetitive movements of passing a thread through fabric from the front to the back, the back to the front and holding the fabric in place to do so. Both of these actions can cause RSI in the hands and wrist.
The good news is that RSI can be avoided by making some simple changes to the way you embroider, handstitch, and do other types of needlework. For example, you should never engage in any type of needlework for prolonged periods of time without taking periodic breaks. During these breaks you should gently stretch your hand, wrist, and fingers. A simple, effective hand exercise of opening and closing your fist is very effective. Regrettably, though, there is no sure fire cure all for RSI. And if you ever find yourself afflicted with the onslaught of RSI, your best remedy is to immediately stop your stitching until your tendons and muscles have time to heal. For the pain, you can take an anti-inflammatory medication and rest the area. If the pain does not subside on its own, then you should seek the help of a medical professional. It’s advisable to always check with your physician and get his or her okay before taking any anti-inflammatory medications.
As you engage in embroidering and other types of needlework, it’s important to take all of the precautions you can to avoid RSI. In addition to the periodic breaks, hand and wrist exercises and stretches mentioned in the preceding paragraph, there are other precautions you can take to avoid RSI. For example, you can adapt a proper way to handle your needle and project from the outset. When you are doing embroidery and other types of needlework use a frame to secure your work in place; it is much easier on your non-dominant hand and lessens the onslaught of RSI. You can use a floor frame or a simple lap frame. Both of these will allow you to work without having to sit and hold your fabric taught between your fingers.
The very worst offense that inevitably invites the onslaught of RSI is using a very small weave fabric. This necessitates the daunting task of trying to get the needle in just the right place resulting in repetitively tensing your hand and finger muscles and holding them in this awfully uncomfortable position for prolonged periods of time increasing the risk that you will get RSI. Avoid this by using a larger weave fabric. With the larger holes in the fabric you do not have to be as precise to get your stitches made. The end result is that your hand and finger muscles stay more relaxed.
When you are stitching by hand it is important to limit the length of the threads you are using. Using a thread that is too long causes you to constantly stretch out your arm to pull the thread through your fabric. But by using a shorter thread to do your stitching, you will not have to stretch out your arm as much. True, you will have to get new thread more often, a lot of unnecessary work, but just think of the benefits of avoiding RSI to your arm and shoulder muscles and tendons.
Another thing you can do when you stitch is to rest your elbows on the arms of your chair or on a pillow. By not moving the upper parts of your arm with every stitch you can avoid shoulder and upper-arm repetitive stress injuries.
After you have been embroidering or sewing for about a half-hour, stop, and if you can, get up and walk around for a minute or two gently swinging your arms and hands around. Notice how you feel. If there is any stress in your muscles. If so, this area is most likely where you would suffer from an RSI. Take the time to understand why you are feeling soreness in this area and what you can do to avoid it in the future.
Also, before returning to your sewing project, take a moment to close your eyes and release any stress you might have. Simple relaxation techniques along with exercises and stretching can do wonders in preventing RSI.
If you presently suffer from RSI or happen to develop it in the future, keep in mind that it does not have to mean the end of your stitching for good. Take sufficient time out to rest and recuperate and think about ways you could have lessened your hand, wrist, fingers, and shoulder movements to have avoided RSI, and and when you are ready to start stitching again, modify your movements appropriately to avoid any flare-ups of RSI. But if you still experience pain, it is time to consult your doctor.