How to Knit without Pain: Free Patterns and Tips for Hurting Hands

Do your hands hurt from arthritis or another health issue? These patterns, exercises, and equipment may help when knitting is a struggle

I love reading your emails but wish I could take a more active part. Due to a stroke down my left side, I am struggling to knit but haven’t given up yet. I am waiting for a knitting aid, which my son has ordered, but while I am waiting I keep trying small items.”

This quandary was shared to me by a reader named Brenda.

My heart ached for her. I’ve heard from many other knitters that arthritis, carpel tunnel, tendonitis, and other health problems keep them from knitting for charity the way they want.

No knitter should have to sit on the sidelines because of their health! So I’ve put together this collection of tips for knitting without pain, even when your hands and/or wrists are compromised in some way.

Try Hand and Wrist Exercises

Sometimes the best way to avoid knitting pain when you struggle with arthritis, carpal tunnel, and the like is some stretching exercises designed not only to ease pain but also to strengthen those hands and wrists.

Lion Brand has a full playlist of yoga poses for knitters and crocheters; they have three specific stretches for carpal tunnel sufferers, but these may also be helpful for other knitters and crocheters that struggle with hand and wrist pain.

You can find lots of other types of exercises (not necessarily just yoga!) on YouTube as well. Here’s a quick search of YouTube videos that contain, specifically, exercises for the hands and wrists.

(Be sure to consult with your doctor before beginning any sort of exercise program!)

Square Needles Can Help So Much

I have been hearing about the wonders of square needles for a few years now. And better still, square needles are more readily available than they’ve ever been!

What makes square needles so helpful for knitting with stiff, sore, or otherwise compromised hands? It appears to have something to do with those flat surfaces that square needles offer. These allow your fingers to rest more easily on the needles, which in turn means you don’t need to grip them as tightly as you do round needles.

I decided to take a shot at square needles myself, and I purchased a set of Kollage circular needles.

While I don’t have compromised hands–I don’t suffer from arthritis or carpal tunnel, for instance–I have found, at times, that after knitting for an extended period of time, I can feel a tightness and, sometimes, pain in my hands and/or wrists. So I was curious to see how these needles would feel.

I was astonished at how much better it felt to knit with these needles! Even without any sort of pain, I recognized almost immediately that I could knit for longer periods of time without my hands even getting tired, let alone sore. Those flat surfaces are magic, y’all!

Honestly, it was almost difficult to return to my round needles after that. I felt a mad longing to throw out my entire set of round needles and replace them all with squares. (I didn’t do that, because it truly was a mad longing. My stash of knitting needles currently rivals my yarn stash!)

My point is that square knitting needles appear to truly make a difference when it comes to hand strain.

I love my Kollage needles, but I do wish to warn you that they do have a bit of a learning curve. Kollage offers only metal needles, and those ends are very pointy. Handle with care!

Also, I used their circular needles. While I loved their memory-free cables (seriously, I have never encountered such floppy circular cables before!), sometimes that floppiness makes for a bit of difficulty in setting up a new project. Once you get past the first few rows or rounds, you should be fine, but in the beginning you might feel like you’re fighting with your stitches. Just a word of warning!

Want to try square needles for yourself? Below you’ll find plenty of options!

Another Option When Knitting Is a Struggle: the Knitting Machine

If square needles don’t help, you may want to try a knitting machine.

A knitting machine is a bit like a knitting loom, but rather than using a hook to work stitches over pegs, you’ll wind a hand crank that does the work for you. Many folks use these rather than knitting needles simply because it is so much faster!

Interested in trying a knitting machine? You can easily purchase one below!

Small Items to Knit When Knitting Is a Struggle

I asked the Knitting for Charity Facebook page for suggestions of projects you can tackle when knitting is a struggle thanks to hurting hands. Here are some of the thoughtful responses I received:

Preemie hats/clothing: This is probably the number one suggestion, and it’s a good one. If you struggle with knitting, preemie hats and other clothing are great choices because they don’t require a lot of knitting time. Below are two free preemie pattern collections for your perusal:

21 Perfectly Precious Free Knitting Patterns for Preemie Clothes

9 of the Cutest Free Knitting Patterns for Preemie Hats

Squares: Blanket/afghan squares are, of course, a charity knitting staple because it takes so little time to knit them. Knit-a-Square has a great, easy pattern for an 8″ x 8″ square . Other square patterns can be found on this page (scroll down a little to get to the squares).

Washcloths: Exchange your acrylic yarn for cotton, linen, bamboo, or hemp yarn, and you can knit the exact same squares to make washcloths. These are appreciated by many homeless and domestic violence shelters. You can knit the simple pattern offered by Knit-a-Square, or you can check out one of KnitPicks’ many wonderful free dishcloth patterns.

Other Possibilities: Other suggestions included mittens, plain small teddy bears, and cat toys. Depending on how compromised one’s hand(s) might be, any of these could be good alternatives. Pattern possibilities are linked below.

Mittens: Red Heart Mittens for All
Small Teddy Bear: Mini Pookies
Cat Toy: That’s Very Mice

Special Patterns: Knitted Flat Preemie Hats

When knitting is a struggle because you have hand pain, circular knitting can be especially difficult. So I found several preemie hat patterns that you can knit flat.

Newborns in Need Knitted Hats: These patterns–Baby Set (fits 4-5 lb baby) or Premature Baby Set— include flat-knitted baby hat patterns. Just click and scroll down for the hat portions.

Garter Stitch Hat

Pink Lady: Available in both French and English.

When knitting is a struggle, you may not need to give up. With exercises, the right equipment, and the right patterns, you just may be able to continue with your charity knitting!

How to Knit Without Pain

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing this information! My right hand is often numb and becomes sore, even my arm and shoulder, when knitting or crocheting. I will definitely try the exercises. I have also learned to loosen up on my tension and to take breaks for a cup of tea! Am 79 years old and a very long time knitter/crocheter. My Grandmother taught me when I was about 7 years old!

    1. You are very welcome, Sherie! I know you’re not alone regarding your difficulties with numbness and soreness. I hope the exercises help you. 7 decades of knitting and crocheting, wow!