Sewing Without Pain: Preventing And Treating Carpal Tunnel

Posted on: 20 October 2016

If you're an avid sewer, you should know that carpal tunnel syndrome is common in people who spend a lot of time at the sewing machine or using a hand needle. It's delicate, repetitive work that can exacerbate compression of the median nerve in your wrist. You'll find it increasingly difficult to sew without pain unless you take active measures to prevent and treat carpal tunnel while it is still a minor issue. 


It's a common misconception that carpal tunnel is actually caused by repetitive motions. In fact, there are multiple causes and factors that lead to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome, including

  • other health conditions. Arthritis, diabetes, hypothyroidism, or even obesity are all contributing factors. 
  • wrist injuries. Some injuries to the wrist lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, even after the injury has healed.
  • stress. Stress increases inflammation and can lead to tightening in the wrist which pinches the nerve.
  • fluid retention. Those who have trouble processing sodium or experience other swelling can develop carpal tunnel syndrome, and some pregnant women can get it as a side effect of increased fluids during pregnancy. 
  • genetics. The shape and size of the wrist can indicate a high chance of developing this condition; if your parents or other close relatives struggle with it, there is a chance you will too. 

In all of the above cases, some prevention can make a world of difference. Sewing is a sedentary activity, so it's important to exercise and eat well outside of your work to maintain a healthy weight. If a project is stressing you out, practice meditation and deep breathing. Drink plenty of water. If you do have diabetes or any of the conditions listed, take time each days to stretch your wrists and relax. Step away from your sewing machine and squeeze a stress ball a few times. Switch activities frequently -- cut, sew, iron, and baste in alternatives, instead of doing all of one thing at once. Be diligent in treating the medical problems you currently face and stay on top of refilling medications that control your thyroid and blood pressure. Yoga can be helpful in preventing the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome, and it can help reduce symptoms once symptoms begin. 


Once symptoms begin, early intervention is important to mitigate the condition before it becomes extraordinarily painful. You might notice you have a tingling feeling in your hand, or that it is harder to make a complete fist. Gripping your sewing scissors or pushing pins might be more difficult. See your doctor as soon as you notice any changes. You can treat minor cases with anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. You hand and wrist should be rested -- your doctor may even provide a brace-like soft splint to prevent motions that make the condition worse. 

You should actively work to treat any underlying causes of carpal tunnel syndrome. For example, if the problem is caused by hormone imbalances from menopause, hormone therapy will help your wrist to feel better. 

If simple pain medication, stretches, and splints do not cause significant improvement, it's time to discuss surgical options. Open release surgery involves cutting the carpal ligament to make the carpal tunnel larger, releasing the pressure on the median nerve. Endoscopic surgery accomplishes a similar result, but with a less visible scar. Avid sewers and quilters worry that they will not be able to continue with their work after surgery. Recovery of the full range of motion in your hands is slow, but with physical therapy and proper resting of the wrists, you should be able to return to your normal sewing activities.

Remember that sewing work is precise and the tiny motions are difficult to regain at first. Talk to your doctor about treatment plans for your carpal tunnel syndrome. Visit a site like for more information.