Did you know that one out of every ten quilters develops carpal tunnel syndrome? Personally, I never thought about it. I figured this condition only affected “other” people. Not so. If you’re a quilter, you’re at risk.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway that runs along the palm side of your wrist. It covers and protects the main nerve in your hand and the tendons of your thumb, index and middle fingers. When you perform repetitive movements like hand quilting or rotary cutting, you stretch and compress these tendons. This irritates the nerves and causes inflammation and pain. When this occurs, it’s called carpal tunnel syndrome.
You’re also at risk if you keep your hands in the same position for a long time. Quilters are guilty of this when they sit at their sewing machines for many hours. If you don’t give your hands and wrists a
break, you increase your chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. If left untreated, the damage might become permanent.
What are the Signs?
- Burning, numbness, aching or tingling on the palm side
of your thumb, index finger and middle finger
- Weakness in grip
- Swelling of hand or forearm
- Aching of the wrist or forearm
- Spreads to arm or shoulder
- Intensity increases at night or in the morning
How to Avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Adjust Your Chair
Adjust your chair height so your forearms are level with the sewing bed (needle area). Your arms should form an “L” shape. If you habitually drop your wrists while sewing, invest in an ergonomic wrist pad.
Support your Feet
If your feet dangle after you adjust your chair, use a book or footrest to fill the gap. Make sure the footrest has a non-slip bottom and slopes 10 to 20 degrees.
Adjust the Height of your Cutting Table and Ironing Board
- Stand with your arms at your sides.
- Bend your arms at the elbows, straight in front of you. Your arms should form an “L” shape.
- Lower your arms an inch or two. This gives your elbows enough room to move without hitting the table.
- This is the proper height for your cutting and ironing surfaces.
Rotary Cutting: Work in Shorter Intervals
When you use a rotary cutter, you perform repetitious movements. This includes squeezing the handle and applying force to make your cuts. If you repeat these actions long enough, you’ll experience a feeling of numbness. That’s because you’ve cut off circulation to your hand. Take this as a warning, and stop cutting.
I’m excited to report that there’s a new ergonomic rotary cutter on the market. It has a padded handle which takes some of the force off your hand and spreads it over a larger area. That means less damage to your hand.
Take Short Breaks
It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re sewing a masterpiece. But try to take a ten-minute break every hour. This keeps your circulation flowing and helps you to focus better. It also gives your muscles and tendons a chance to relax. If you’re like me and you don’t watch the clock when you’re
sewing, set a timer.
Do Stretching Exercises:
- Shake your hands
- Roll your wrists
- Bend and flex your fingers
- Stretch your arms to the side and over your head
- Roll your arms in a circle
- Be creative!
Prevent carpal tunnel syndrome by keeping a good posture, adjusting your sewing room furniture, supporting your feet and taking frequent breaks. If you experience signs of carpal tunnel syndrome, seek medical help right away.
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