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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Sandra Hatch

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome


Diana needs help. "I have a question for you about quilting. I have been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. I have had surgery on both hands -- one in February and the other in September 2006 -- but I am having some problems with the fine motor skills, especially when it comes to sewing, especially my quilting.

"I have a hard time with the pins, and when I hand-quilt. My hands cramp and I cannot pick up the needle or pins (to pin or sew). Do you have any suggestions? I would sure appreciate it, as I want to get back to making quilts like I used to. Thank you very much."

Lots of quilters get carpal tunnel syndrome and have to have surgery. I hope some of our Quilt Connections readers can help Diana with some thoughts or suggestions to help with her hand cramps.

Trudi: "To the lady with CTS -- years ago I had carpal tunnel caused by my work on an intensive data-entry project on the computer. I visited my chiropractor who treated me with ultrasound therapy three times a week for a month. I didn't have to have surgery, and the carpal tunnel went away.

"I also wore the wristband supports for that duration as well, and I was thrilled to discover the knit quilter's version by Handeze. I still use them when my wrist gets tired or abused! I hope you can find a chiropractor who can help!"

I have a couple of pairs of these wrist-support gloves and they do help my hands. The gloves are available in several sizes at

Lynn writes: "I have carpal tunnel and have had surgery. I find that if I wear the braces at night it bothers me less the following day."

Ruth shares: "For people who have pain, I suggest the 'Emotional Freedom Technique.' It is noninvasive, free, quick and effective. Read about it at"

Loraine says, "In response to Diane's cramping in her hands and wrists, I have CTS and have had surgery on one wrist but not the other yet. I find I get the best results from resting the wrists by alternating activities every half hour between sewing, cutting, pressing, sorting and doing dishes.

"Taking rest breaks every 2-3 hours (a.k.a. sitting down and covering my hands with something to warm them up or to cool them, and my neck and shoulders). A cool drink of water or milk or hot tea while rocking with a lap blanket on my shoulders or snuggled around my hands, legs and lower trunk of my body for 15-30 minutes makes a lot of difference in comfort.

"In addition, I wear braces on both wrists at night. These may be purchased without prescription in my state at drugstores or grocery stores with pharmacy areas. If these do not help in one week, it would be good to let your doctor know."

Margaret says there is hope: "To Diana with carpal tunnel syndrome -- there is hope at the end of the rainbow. I've had both wrists operated on, but it took a full year to heal the nerves, especially those at the tops of the fingers. Be patient -- the surgery is worth it. The body heals slowly and miraculously!

"For the quilter who can't pick up needles when hand quilting, the key is to stop often and exercise the hand with a small ball. This happens to me when I rip a seam. I wish I could prevent seam ripping, but mistakes happen!"

Deborah: "This is for Diana regarding her carpal tunnel problems. I had surgery, and it took me about six to eight months to get my skills back for sewing, crocheting and quilting. She just has to do those exercises that they told her to do. The streching ones are the best."

Debbie has a few words of advice. "I have had carpal tunnel in both hands and both of them released as well. To get your hands back into shape, get a tennis ball or one of those rubbery exercise balls for your hand. As often as possible, squeeze that ball several times.

"As you are quilting, stop every half hour or so and stretch your hands out; e.g., spread all of your fingers as far apart as you can. Then do wrist rotations and roll your shoulders some.

"It's all interconnected. Just remember, you lost some strength in your hands before the surgery and some more afterwards. Now you have to rebuild it all back."

Kim writes: "A lady in a past Quilt Connections had carpal-tunnel surgery and was asking for suggestions. I have had carpal tunnel for several years with no surgery. I have typed for 35 years and quilted/crocheted/knitted for about 15. My hands would hurt and go to sleep on me, and some days I didn't have the strength to turn on my car ignition.

"My chiropractor put me on vitamin B6 -- three tablets a day, and told me to never sleep on my hands and never fold them under and lay on them. I have worn my wrist braces to bed sometimes.

"I tried the doctor's advice and within a month have had fewer bouts of numbness and am able to hand-quilt for a few hours a day. I am not able to knit anymore though, it makes them hurt really bad. Ask your doctor about trying the B6."

Bonnie has a suggestion. "Based on 'firsthand' experience, I recommend the services of a chiropractor who is licensed in the 'active release technique.' The theory is that the nerves and muscle are adhered to one another and the technique releases those adhesions. Search for a chiropractor in your area on the Internet. Good luck!"

Renuka recommends stretching: "One of the best things that Diane can do is to perform stretching exercises (which should have been suggested to her post surgery), and to wear the glove that she can find at craft stores (the glove does not extend beyond the second knuckle of the fingers). Lastly she should perform stretching exercises after about every hour of sewing/quilting.

"It does take a long time for the motor skills to come back, and, depending on the damage to the nerve, she may not have total return of function. However, with exercises and time, she should regain more than 90 percent of her function.

"I have had surgery and therefore know what she is going through. Occupational/physical therapy after surgery really helped me."

Eva shares: "Tell Diana that after her carpal tunnel syndrome surgery it will take a while to get back to normal for her quilting. I have been sewing for nearly 60 years, quilting for at least half of that time, and had to have that surgery in 1981.

"The doctor wanted to do surgery on the left hand the same year, but I refused (after 70 stitches in the right one, no thanks!). In the late 1990s I went to a therapist who gave me the following exercises for my hands and some Thera-Putty to use:
Squeeze putty.
Pinch putty between fingertips and thumb.
Pinch putty between fingers (will feel weak -- this is normal).
Wrap putty around fingers, spread fingers apart.

"Tell Diana to get some Thera-Putty from the therapist and try these exercises plus whatever the therapist recommends. They have, and still do, help me with my quilting, etc.

"I do enjoy each issue of your magazine, Quilter's World!

"PS. Our quilting group is making the Fringy Star rag quilts for the wounded marines at the new facility at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif. I understand that the facility has put queen-size beds in the rooms, so they can have their families stay with them because they recuperate much faster. They are then allowed to take the quilts home with them permanently.

"One of ours is finished and two more are being made, with a fourth one being sent from the northern part of the state. It is our hope to deliver these in January or early February."

I found Thera-Putty online as a result of a Google search. It looks sort of like Playdough. It comes in soft, medium and firm choices. Thanks for this hint, Eva. If any of you want information about the Fringy Star rag quilts, I can't share Eva's e-mail address, but I can forward messages to her should any of you want to get involved.

Tammy has some ideas. "I am really enjoying your newsletter. I've only recently started learning to quilt. My 12-year-old daughter wants to learn, so my aunt is teaching her, and I am picking it up at the same time. I love being bombarded by all the colors when I go into a quilting shop. It's like it is food for my soul.

"I wanted to offer Diana a suggestion for her carpal tunnel. I just learned about this recently from my online knitting group. Someone suggested wearing wrist warmers all of the time, or for as much time as you can, day and night. It seems they had tried it, and after a couple of days they noticed a difference in how their hands felt.

"They had also had surgery and had been told by their doctor that they could not knit anymore, and these wrist warmers helped take away the pain. Use them when you have pain and wear them until the pain goes away. It's worth a try, at least.

"Keep up the excellent work on the newsletter!"

Sandra shares Diana's pain. "I have arthritis and fibromyalgia -- both hands are affected. I purchased the 'gloves' for quilters at a fabric store, not the heavy thing from the pharmacy store. I use them faithfully.

"Other little things that help me include pins with plastic covers so I can grip them. I use needles I can see, and instead of a thimble (which I cannot keep on my finger), I use the little sandpaper dots available in quilting supply stores. Mine sticks right on the pad of my middle finger near my nail, and as my hands get painful, I move it accordingly and can still push as needed.

"Good lighting and a comfortable chair are a must. These help reduce stress that instantly shows up in the hands. Use a large magnetic pin holder; it helps to slide the pin heads with your thumb to get them off and into your fingers. No one says you have to always use straight pins; the larger quilting safety pins with the plastic covers that help slide them into the fabric as you would a pin are helpful also. Just leave the pin open and pull it as you go.

"Finally, I use lots of warm water and a pain reliever ointment before starting a project. A good rub and then a wash off will remove residue but not the effect of the ointment. I just started quilting a year ago, but my life has been affected for years by pain and swelling, and I learned to cope -- some of the things you have always done anyway can be moved into your quilting world."

Janise has an unusual remedy. "I have also had trouble with my hands. I did not want to have surgery and be out of commission for any length of time because I am an avid crocheter and quilter. I tried out a friend's hot-wax machine and was amazed how it relieved the pain. I bought one of my own and use it when I am doing a lot of quilting or yard work. It has been the answer to my hand pain. It also helps the arthritis in my fingers."

I searched for "hot wax machine" on Google and found many sites with information about them. In short, you put you hand in the machine, coat it with wax, remove it and put on a special glove, and let the wax hold the heat inside.

Apparently this type of machine is used at spas. I did not read about how it is removed or if it removes hair like the types used in beauty salons for eyebrows and such. It is worth investigating further for those who think this might help their ailments.

Eileen shares: "I have CTS and arthritis in my thumb joints. I wear a splint on my thumb. I recently made holiday collars for my two dogs. When hand-sewing the decorative attachments on (bells, buttons), I used a small pair of long-nose jewelry pliers with rubbery handles to push and pull the needle through. The pliers were surprisingly easy to work with and allowed me to finish the project."

Elizabeth has had surgery, too. "Diana, one of your subscribers, wrote asking if anyone knew of something one could do to help after CTS surgery. I had the surgery about 18 years ago, and I have found if I take 100mg of vitamin B6 daily I don't get a lot of problems with my hands. If I forget and go without it, my hands will ache and cramp most of the time.

"Sometimes my hand will cramp when I am grasping something, like a needle or anything small. I have to let the cramp work itself out, but usually afterward I have no problem the rest of the day.

"I know if you take multivitamins, you get B6 in them, but the extra is what helps. Give it a try for a week or so and see if it helps; it can't hurt!

"I was really disappointed, for about six weeks after my surgery. Then I read an article in Woman's Day Magazine written by a doctor in England, stating that they had done a study of 25 people with carpal tunnel syndrome, adding vitamin B6 to their dietary intake each day.

"I believe that in 24 of the 25 people tested, the vitamin B6 helped lesson their pain, and some didn't even have to have the surgery after all. So I thought it might help after surgery, and it sure enough helped me!"

Zevenster from the Netherlands would like to give a tip to Diana as well. "I have found great relief for complaints similar to Diana's by visiting a touch-for-health specialist. If the specialist has a physiotherapeutic background, he/she will be able to help you very much.

"I hope it works for you as well as it did for me. I am not much of a patchworker, but quilting itself is fun for me, and I missed it dearly, along with my sewing."

Leslie thinks her answer could help Diana with her carpal tunnel syndrome. "Using large-head pins, either the new Fons & Porter directional pins, or the daisy flat-head pins, can help with the gripping of pins. Always put the pins upright in a pincushion to make it easier to grab them instead of on a flat surface which makes it hard to pick them up.

"I haven't really found anything that relieves the cramping while hand quilting with small needles. I use the rocking quilting method myself, and have to stop and rest my hands about every 10" or my hands start to cramp and lose feeling.

"It's not going to be easy, but give yourself time to heal. Six months may not be enough to have gotten back all of your motor skills from the surgery. Quilting just takes me longer now, but I still get it done. Keep up the quilting, it will come in time."