Thumbs Up

Knitting to relieve stress triggered another problem entirely.

Christel MarchandBy Christel Marchand Aprigliano

November 2007 — A coworker suggested knitting to me a few years ago, as a way to relieve stress. She and I eagerly took a quick pointer class from a local crafts store, bought a few skeins of soft, fuzzy yarn and away we went – knitting scarves, sweaters, and neat items to wear. You could locate where I was in the house by the steady clicking of knitting needles. I was in craft heaven.

In June of that year, I tried to get up from bed and realized that I wasn't going anywhere except to the doctor. My MRI revealed, as the surgeon glibly stated: "the largest ruptured disk I've seen this year. Wow!" I was scheduled for surgery, given a lot of painkillers, and found myself with almost two months before I could work, drive, or walk around. What to do? Thank goodness for knitting!

Every day, I would knit for a few hours while watching TV. I found solace in transforming a ball of yarn into an article of clothing. I was hepped up on painkillers, so thinking clearly wasn't happening … I never thought that I was actually creating another problem.

My back surgery was so successful that I was able to stop taking the painkillers the next day. It was a relief to have a clear head again, but I started to wonder about my thumbs. They hurt. Badly. They made a clicking sound when I moved them, and the palm area near my thumbs throbbed constantly.

I had a diabetic knitting injury. (Yes, you may laugh. Others have, and I'm over it.) I had developed trigger thumb in both hands. I had two more surgeries that year – one on each thumb.

What is trigger finger (or in my case, trigger thumb?)?
It is a painful condition caused by the narrowing of the sheath that surrounds the tendons in your fingers (or thumbs). Diabetics are prone to trigger finger, as well as anyone who has to grip something repetitively (like, umm… knitting). The narrowing of the sheath around the tendon can actually cause the tendon to catch, preventing the digit from straightening fully or even locking it into one position. My friends told me that I had "hitchhiker's thumb".

Why does this occur in conjunction with diabetes?
Like some other musculoskeletal complications, poor glycemic control and diabetic blood vessel changes play a part. Even though I'd been in good control for a number of years by this time, the knitting sent my thumbs careening over the edge.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetics can have more than one finger affected at a time, and unfortunately, trigger finger can reoccur.

What is the treatment for trigger finger?
For some very mild cases, NSAIDs can be prescribed, along with resting or splinting of the particular fingers. A steroidal injection at the site can also be prescribed, but for some reason, diabetics don't respond well to this type of therapy. For many of us, surgery is the only option.

My surgery was completed under local anesthesia, so that I could move my thumb when the surgeon asked. The doctor made an incision along the sheath of the tendon, giving the tendon room to breathe and move freely again.

My thumbs have healed and I haven't had any recurrence of this particular diabetic (knitting) complication. I am much more conscious of how my hands feel, checking often for the signs of trigger finger.

I never thought that the needles that I would shudder to look upon would be my knitting needles.

Do you still knit?
Come on, what do you think?

Of course.

Read more of Christel's articles.

dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: May 20, 2014

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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