How knitting helps me with my chronic pain and fatigue

Around the time I started cycling to help my endometriosis. I realised that in order for cycling to work I also needed a low energy activity to use for the days or moments where I couldn’t cycle, something to balance out the immense amount of energy I used in my first few months of cycling.

Something that would help me stay awake, but also keep pain away and fight off my disabling tiredness in the evenings.

So now I am a keen knitter. Knitting is perfect to help you manage with chronic pain and fatigue, and here’s why.

Knitting the pain away

The reason that knitting is such a powerful natural painkiller doesn’t boil down to any single idea, but a multitude of things. Essentially the activity of knitting is a beautiful distraction from pain. I’ll break down some of the reasons why I enjoy knitting, but this could relate to many different crafts or hobbies.

A huge sense of achievement as you create something

The first thing that compelled me to continue with knitting was the immense sense of making progress (even while I was feeling awful). When you become competent at knitting working on a piece gives you a particular goal to complete, a set number of steps to follow. Knitting provides a measured and hugely relaxing way to settle down with my pain, to work on and accomplish something despite it.

Learning a new skill while gives me a sense of progress on days where I make progress in little else. It’s really nice to see something that you’ve crafted grow, even when you’re feeling your worst. Best of all there’s always something new to learn. Knitting has shown me that it’s possible to learn and engage my brain even when I am feeling incapable of doing much else.

It really settles the mind

Knitting is so relaxing. I think part of the reason is the fact that there’s something soft, delicate and tactile in your hands. Simply the act of having my knitting project in my hands goes some way to calm me these days. The gentle, repetitive motion of adding rows of stitches to my work grounds and relaxes me in a way that’s similar to meditation.

Easy to pick up, plenty of things to master

The basics of knitting has a backbone of two basic stitches (knit & purl), you’ll also need to learn how to start a start and finish off a piece. I’ve been able to get someone knitting as a total newbie within half an hour.

Once you’re confident with how to do one thing you’re better equipped to pick up another new sub-section of knitting knowledge. You’ll start with simple garter stitch scarfs, then perhaps move to knitting in the round, figure out how to correct your mistakes, learn how to make bigger pieces. Dabble with lacework, cable and sock knitting. Making your own clothing and gifts is hugely satisfying, and I now do it all year around.

A great distraction for pain

I personally find doing something like knitting immensely effective for helping me with pain management day-to-day. Doing something focussed, calm, involved and repetitive means it’s quite often complex enough to engage you, but often simple enough that you can still continue when struggling with pain. Knitting can look complicated, but does start to make sense when you break it down into it’s component parts.

It can be complex and complicated sometimes too, which is also welcome. Sometimes I am so engaged in a piece that my knitting becomes the only thing I focus on, everything else drains out of my head, my pain, my worries about that day. It’s extremely liberating.

Also, I find the focus on an activity which doesn’t take a lot of energy but needs some concentration, does help me to stay awake when the fatigue is bad.

It’s a great social activity

This is one of my favourite aspects of knitting. I taught myself how to knit, but in the pursuit of trying to improve I joined a local knitting group and met so many new people. There’s an immense pleasure that comes with knitting with others. It’s a chance to catch up and get to know a bunch of people that you wouldn’t normally meet.

People of all ages and backgrounds come to my group, and I look forward to getting a couple of hours to relax, eat, drink and chatter. It’s such a crucial social lifeline when illness can sometimes leave me bed-bound even now.

Join a knitting group and you’ll get to knit and natter with people of all backgrounds and knitting experiences. It’s a great way to catch up on all the lost social interaction that illness removes from you, as well as an opportunity to trade wool, learn new skills, ask for help, and pick up gossip. 😉

People who knit are (without exception in my experience) helpful, friendly and inclusive and extremely keen to get more people knitting.

Inexpensive

Knitting can extremely inexpensive. It can be expensive too if you go after a lot of the most expensive, beautiful pure or silk wools or collect lots of beautiful polished birch needles. However all you need to get started is a ball of yarn and a set of needles, and neither of these are particularly expensive. In fact synthetic yarns have come a long way too (knitware doesn’t always have to be itchy and hard to wash anymore).

Knitwear started off (in this country at least) as working-class garments. Knitting was something that could be easily made around the chores of the rest of the day (by both men and women) and didn’t cost a lot while being hardy and long-lasting. Something knitted well and with care will last you a lifetime.

I see bits and pieces that would be good enough to start you off for sale in second hand shops all the time – however some of this stuff uses older, vintage sizing. You might be best off grabbing a knitting starter kit or better yet, popping into your local, independent knitting shop and asking for some starting help.

Can travel with you where you need the relief

Another beauty of knitting is that it can travel with you, going where you need the distraction or the relief. You’ll often see people knitting in public (perhaps on buses or trains) because pieces can be left, picked up at another point and continued when you have a good moment in time to continue.

It’s a great conversation starter too. People who recognise how to knit will ask what you’re knitting, chat about the yarn you’re using, ask about the pattern you’re following. Anyone that can’t knit will be engaged by watching you progress or asking for tips about how to start.

Knitting is for everyone

I’ve seen people of all ages and backgrounds at my knitting group. The knitting community in my area is extremely inclusive, supportive and welcoming and I’m sure that’s the case elsewhere too. Contrary to public opinion plenty of men knit too!

If you’ve always thought that knitting wasn’t for you then perhaps you should give it a try, add another string to your bow, learn another life skill and hopefully improve your pain management in the meantime. It certainly works for me, and would also really suit pain management and support group setting also.

Knitting and pain go together beautifully, but I never really appreciated quite how well or understood quite why until I tried it myself.

How to get started

So you’d like to give knitting a go? Great news. I imagine you’re feeling pretty overwhelmed with how to start. Knitting seemed very complicated before I knew how to do it, every time how it worked was explained to me it was done so using pictures in a book or magazine. I found this too baffling and made more mistakes than progress.

That said I managed to teach myself near enough everything I know about knitting. This is because there are plenty of free resources online. There’s no need to struggle to understand a diagram anymore. Searching “how to knit” on Youtube is how I finally got going. I watched each video frame by frame, slowed it down and paused until the techniques start to sink in. Best of all, I return to searching Youtube whenever there’s a new technique that I need to learn.

Learning online is a very pressure-free way to learn, at your own pace and in your own time, and that suited my learning style. This is a great method to learn with a chronic illness as you can start to learn from the comfort of your own home. If you’re not able to do that, then my recommendation would be to go to a local knitting or craft shop (independent shops are best for this). And ask someone there if there are any lessons available or any newbie-friendly knitting groups they’d recommend. You might be lucky and find that someone working in the shop would be happy to show and advise you (usually all they’ll ask is that you buy your starting equipment from their shop).

All you need to get started is a ball of yarn and the right size knitting needle for the wool you’re using. Best to check with your local yarn shop here for help as I know I have both British and American readers and knitting needles sizes and yarn sizes (widths) vary based on your country of origin. All I’ll say is it might be good to start with a slightly chunkier wool so you can see your stitches properly as you start to learn.

Finally, Ravelry is probably the only knitting resource you’ll ever need. Use it to find lots of free patterns, and you can also log all of your knitting progress on there too. Do feel free to find me on Ravelry once you’ve gotten started too, I’d love to see what you’ve made despite chronic pain. 🙂

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About endohope

My name is Michelle B. I've lived with endometriosis for eight years and Joint Hypermobility Syndrome for four. Trying to live and work with both illnesses as best I can.

6 responses to “How knitting helps me with my chronic pain and fatigue

  1. I LOVE to knit. It’s a great source of satisfaction (especially when the body isn’t working right!), meditative and focuses my mind and I, too, enjoy the social piece. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Cameron Von St James

    Hey I have a quick question about your blog, could you email me when you have a chance? Thanks! –Cam

  3. Ashley

    Thank you for this suggestion and for your blog. I have stage four endo from my lungs to my pelvic floor and blood cancer agents in the 6000s. I underwent “emergency” surgery last December and your blog is the only real and practical help I have come across. I think I have implemented every suggestion you have on this blog and have gotten my life back as a result. I will try this knitting suggestion now. My hands tend to shake from the fatigue and anxiety of endo, so this might be a perfect stabilizer.

    • Thank you for such a lovely and heartfelt comment Ashley. You’ve confirmed the exact detail I’d always hoped for from my website – that people are finding it useful and taking some of the things that I’ve suggested on board and found them useful. I couldn’t be happier.

      I think you might very well find knitting helpful. Between knitting, cycling and general pain management, this is how I now cope with endometriosis each and every day. I’ll add some specific starting advice to my post to help you (and others out).

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Endohope

My name is Michelle and I've been living and working with endometriosis for seven years. I hope to provide some hope for this illness through practical advice and discussion of this awful disease. You can read more about my story on my about me page.

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