One of the only dangers to sewing and embroidery work is something called “repetitive stress injury” (RSI). Repetitive stress injury is believed to be caused by someone performing the same tasks over and over. This repetition causes strain on the muscles and tendons of the area where the tasks are completed by the body. This stress causes inflammation and discomfort which can only be relived by totally stopping the offending tasks until it heals.
Repetitive movements, such as those hand and wrist movements associated with embroidery and hand sewing, can cause RSI. Generally, embroidery involves the simple 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 and exasperate RSI in the hands and wrist.
The good news is that RSI can be avoided if you take the time to make some simple changes to the way you embroider and sew. And, if you find yourself afflicted with RSI you should immediately stop your stitching and allow for your tendons and muscles to heal. The best thing you can do for the pain is to 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.
As you are embroidering you should take all of the precautions you can to avoid RSI. The first is to adapt how you handle your needle and project. When you are doing embroidery it is much easier on your non-dominant hand to use a frame to secure your work in place. 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.
Using a very small weave fabric can add to RSI. Because the smaller weave requires your stitch placement to be much more precise, to get the needle in just the right place, you will likely find that you tense your muscles in your hand and fingers to make the stitches. When you use a higher count, or larger weave fabric, this issue is resolved naturally because the holes in the fabric are larger and you do not have to be as precise to get your stitches made.
When you are stitching by hand it is important to limit the length of the threads you are using. When you use a long thread you have to constantly stretch out your arm to pull the thread through your fabric. By stitching with shorter threads you will not have to stretch out your arm as much. You will have to get new thread more often but you will save your arm and shoulder muscles and tendons a lot of unnecessary work in the process.
When you stitch you should be resting 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 you should stop and move your arms and hands around. See if you feel any stress in your muscles and know that this will most likely be the area in which you would suffer from an RSI. Take the time to understand why you are seeing soreness and how to avoid it in the future.
Once you have stopped for a quick break to move around, you should also work at closing your eyes and releasing any stress you might have. Simple relaxation techniques can do wonders for RSI.
If you are suffering from RSI it does not have to mean the end of your stitching for good. You should take the time out to rest and recuperate. Then, when you are ready to start stitching again, you can modify your movements to avoid any flare-ups of RSI. If you then still experience pain it is time to consult your doctor.