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Can sewing hurt your health?

Last week, I threw out my back and hip. Those of you who follow me on twitter might have heard me complaining about it. I try to complain as little as possible about this kind of thing normally, but… wow! It hurt.

Now, this wasn’t a sewing related injury. In fact, I’m not 100% sure what caused it, but I’m guessing it had to do with walking about 10 miles in ballet flats on concrete over the course of the weekend. Dumb thing to do, right?

I’m a pretty health conscious gal overall, but when it comes to the everyday things that can rack up pain, I’m hopeless. My chair posture is terrible, I sit for very long periods while working, and somehow I’ve gotten much worse at staying hydrated. Oh, and I wear unsupportive shoes.

So I’ve been researching and working on ways to keep healthy here in the sewing studio. Here are some ideas I’ve come up with:

  • Yoga breaks! I bought Yoga mats for us here, and we sometimes take stretch breaks in the afternoons. The key is to lock the door so the UPS guy doesn’t walk in on us doing Downward Facing Dog in our sundresses. By the way, if you are looking for some short and free yoga instruction, we’ve been using YogaDownload.com. They have a TON of free 20 minute audio classes that are just awesome, and they’re also available as a free podcast on iTunes!
  • Hydration station. I don’t like to think of myself as a lazy person. But walking alllll the way down the hall to fill up my water bottle has definitely slowed down my water intake. So I recently purchased this lovely new water dispenser and now I drink at least 64oz a day. No excuses!
  • Break timer. I am really bad about taking breaks. I get way too immersed in things. So what I do is set a timer for 50 minutes on my computer. When it goes off, I take a 10 minute break, look away from the computer, get some water, and stretch. Then I set it for another 50.
  • Ergonomics. Ok, so I’ve been researching this one a little bit. Did you know OSHA even has special instructions just for sewing workrooms? Pretty cool. According to OSHA, when sewing we should sit in a chair with our legs at a 90-100 degree angle. Our elbows should be in near our bodies (so we’re not reaching).

    Finally, OSHA recommends that the sewing table should be at elbow height. This one I’m not so sure about. It seems that the work would be too far away from my eyes if this were the case.

  • Task rotation. Sometimes it’s faster to assembly line things when sewing. But if you feel stiff, it can help to vary your tasks. Do a little sewing, then pressing, then trim while standing and stretching your legs, etc.

What do you think? Any more healthy sewing tips you can share with us?

Oh, and my back is feeling much much better thanks to some gentle yoga, hot baths, and plenty of rest.

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On , ladykatza said: | peanutbuttermacrame.blogspot.com

I’m very conscious of how sewing can effect your pain level. See, I had back surgery about three and a half years ago. I have discovered that sewing, particularly when drafting/cutting takes its toll. I usually end up hurting for a good bit afterwards.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

I hear you. I have had back surgery as well. Yoga has been extremely helpful for my pain.

On , Casey said: | elegantmusings.com

Great tips–especially on making the sewing area more ergonomic. (An area I need to work on with my sewing space!) I’ve found that doing exercises that stretch and strengthen really does help reduce the amount of stiffness or pain I sometimes get from very long sewing stretches. I do pilates, and now that my core is really strengthened, it helps support my back and shoulders (keeping them from slumping a lot!), which cuts down on hurting. Like ladykatza though, I still have to find a solution for cutting and drafting… I don’t have a proper table to do that on, so the floor it is! Which usually gets to my bad knees… ;) lol.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Oh yes, keeping your core muscles strong is so important!

I really need to pay more attention to ergonomics. I have a tendency to sit in really weird contorted positions, even while sewing!

On , Gemini said: | lapetitechouette.wordpress.com

Great tips! I hunch over a lot when I sew, so my back hurts quite a lot.

If you’re working on sewing where you’re staring at the same thing at a short distance for a lengthy period of time, I would highly recommend looking up every twenty minutes to let your eyes focus on something in the distance for one minute or so. I do this as a knitter too.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Really good tip. This is a good practice for computer usage as well.

On , libi said:

Not long ago I moved my sewing station from a sitting desk to a standing desk and it has made a huge difference in my back and shoulder tension.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Ooh, I’ve long been curious about standing desks, especially for sewing! It seems like it would make certain tasks faster too, especially if you’re pressing area is nearby.

On , Melanie said:

I think task rotation is a good idea. I tend to hunch over the machine when I’m concentrating on something I want to get really perfect – so I can see it better, not because the chair is improperly placed. It sure does lead to a stiff back or shoulders but there’s no other way to really see what youre doing carefully. I’m off to get some water!

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Yeah, that’s true. I think good lighting might help with that too, so you don’t have to hunch quite so much?

On , Amanda said: | sewinintherain.blogspot.com

I had a cutting table adjusted so that it was at hip height to keep me from bending too much (which a sewing instructor had recommended) and that worked out great. But after standing there for awhile barefoot my lower back started to hurt! Should’ve remembered to wear supportive shoes, but that’s hard to do when you’re at home relaxing! Since I don’t have that table anymore I use a drafting desk and sit while I pin/cut. It’s been working out well.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

We have an adjustable drafting table, which I bought from an architecture firm that was getting rid of them. It adjusts to various heights, which is great because Caitlin is taller than I am!

On , Lavender said: | threadsquare.wordpress.com

My posture is in need of constant adjustment, and though I’m getting better at maintaining it at the computer, at the sewing machine…all is sometimes lost. Task rotation definitely helps, but two magic words are even better: foam roller. I couldn’t live without it at this point. I use it as a poor man’s massage to get the kinks and knots out post-exercise. But also as a quick restorative posture break, it works wonders!

On , Lavender said: | threadsquare.wordpress.com

ps – that water dispenser is charming!

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

So glad to hear this recommendation, because I’ve been thinking about getting one! I hear them recommended for runners a lot (which is another of my hobbies). People seem to really love them.

On , Laurie said: | teacupsamongthefabric.blogspot.com

I can completely relate. It is so rare that I can find time to completely devote to sewing, and that might be a good thing. I find I feel better when I work in my sewing into my regular busy day. I am recuperating from an injured foot right now and have had such severe back pain in the past that required ER visits because I couldn’t walk. I’ve learned that the more I move, the quicker I heal and the better I feel.
Laurie

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

That’s true for me too. I once read that moving around and using your muscles also helps flush out the lactic acid buildup that can cause soreness / burning in muscles.

On , Lauren said: | lladybird.wordpress.com

what a cute water dispenser! i love pretty, everyday things like that :)

i recently learned the hard way that one’s cutting table needs to be a lot higher than standard dining table-height. i bought a dining table to use as my cutting table (the norden gateleg from ikea, if anyone is interested) and after a couple weeks i realized it was waaay too low & was giving me back pain :( i just went to the hardware store & bought a big piece of wood (the kind you’d use as a pillar to support a deck) and had it chopped down into smaller pieces that i then put under the legs. it raised the table a good 4″-6″ and now it’s the perfect height so i don’t hurt my back :)

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

That is a great idea!

And the water dispenser… I saw one at a local coffee shop in my neighborhood and fell in love! I had to ask them where they bought it so I could run out and get one too. :)

On , Ashley at The Feisty Redhead said: | thefeistyredhead.blogspot.com

The yoga idea is awesome, even for people with office jobs! We don’t really have a place in our office to do that, so I end up stretching privately in the bathroom stall. Heehee.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Ha! Perhaps you could start at an initiative in your office. I know most employers welcome any kind of measures that will help prevent injuries.

On , Deane said:

I used to get stabbing pain between my shoulder blades and could only tolerate an hour or so of sewing. So I took up knitting! Then I started sewing again in a place where the only option I had was to stand, and it has made all the difference. I can go for hours now, with periodic breaks to backbend over my exercise ball or foam roller. Standing ROCKS and I can zip over to the iron in seconds flat.

On , Alessa said: | farben-freude.blogspot.com

Those are all wonderful tips, not just for sewing but also for office work! I’ve been meaning to buy a Yoga mat for ages, so I can do some pilates exercises every day…

On , Emma said: | steadfastbags.com

I had a professor in college for weaving and other fibers courses who started our 8 hour class with 20 minutes of yoga, then demanded eye breaks every 30, and forced us to step away from our looms and stretch every hour! It taught me to pay attention to my body, and it still keep this routine when working!

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Wow, sounds like a very caring professor. That’s awesome.

On , Sewing Princess said: | bombardone.com

I love this post. I seem to have exactly the same issues you have. I always forget to drink since I don’t get thirsty.
I have shoulder pain all the time since my day job is in front of a pc. Then I get home and start sewing…
Need to work on my sewing station too… thanks for the Osha link.

On , Caroline said:

Interesting post, thanks!

I find having very cold water on hand helps me to drink more… So I use an insulated bottle in order to minimise to need to go refill a glass often and I store a big water dispenser in the fridge!

Geekery « threadsquare

[...] fabric while cutting, followed by long stretches at the machine.  Sarai over at Colette recently brought this up.  I offered a snippet of advice, and wanted to repeat it here.  Frequent breaks are key, and I [...]

On , Hallie said:

I work in a professional costume shop and can’t stress enough the importance of posture and stretch breaks. We have stress mats all over the work room floor(all cutting tables have multiple mats, as do pressing tables, the dye room and craft areas). Basically, any place that you need to stand for a long time, you are standing on a spongy mat. Body stresses are cumulative and cause a breakdown overtime. I have tendonitis in my elbow from cutting and sewing through really tough materials. Thanks for the great and very important post.

On , Jewell said:

my husband built me a ’tiltable’ table for my sewing machine(s). I do not
use it in the ‘normal’ demonstrated position-I turn it around so that the front of the machine is raised, thus I do not stress or strain my neck in an unusual position trying to see the machine needle area.
Also-fyi: the needle/presser foot should ‘sit’ directly in front of the middle of a woman’s clevage.
I love sewing….it’s ……….sew fun!!

On , Diane Doe said:

Has anyone used the weighted posture aid Joann’s sells? It looks like a weight that hangs on your upper back to help prevent slumping.

On , Laure said:

Thanks for the yoga and OSHA links, nice!

So sorry your back hurt! I have a tip to share…Our feet contain about 25% of all the bones in our body, and wearing shoes keeps them from moving as they should, which keeps the muscles from being as strong as they should. Wearing supportive shoes is the cause of most of our pain, because they throw off our balance and alignment, and they tell the body that it doesn’t need to hang onto the padding that we are supposed to have in our feet. But since most of us have been in shoes for most of our lives, we have to take baby-steps to recover our feet to full strength, range of motion and padding. Walking barefoot for just a few minutes a day, and then increasing that amount by 10% per week, is a relatively painless way to regain proper use of your feet. Some have reported an end to chronic pain when doing this; presumably their pain was directly related to foot-related alignment issues. Plus, going barefoot is fun!