Knit one, purl two: Study will examine if knitting a key to arthritis pain relief

The Pace Setters, a Billings Bridge seniors walking and social group, have knit blankets for kids at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario for more than 23 years, and now they’ve offered up their hands in the name of medical research.

A small pilot study, led by Lucie Brosseau, a professor and researcher at the University of Ottawa’s School of Rehabilitation Sciences, was launched with the Pace Setters to examine the impact knitting has on pain and stiffness caused by osteoarthritis.

“We’re hoping it helps (with the pain),” said 75-year-old Izzy Hale, who’s suffered with arthritis for more than 40 years. “I’m willing to try (this study), because I don’t want to quit knitting.”

Brosseau thinks that knitting will help relieve study participants’ pain and morning stiffness. Participants have a log book in which they record the amount they knit, as well as the level of pain and stiffness experienced when they wake up and before and after knitting. Brosseau will monitor the log books over the six-week study, and said that in three weeks, if it’s working, she may see results.

“(My arthritis) pain is worse in the morning,” said 82-year-old participant Elena Dinu, who has suffered with arthritis for more than 10 years. She says that knitting has definitely helped with her pain.

“If you do things, (your hands) get a little more mobile,” she said.

A University of Ottawa researcher thinks knitting will help relieve study participants’ pain and morning stiffness. Jean Levac / .

If you move your hands through knitting, it can help maintain joint flexibility and strengthen the muscles around them to help ease pain.

Brosseau hopes this study will provide osteoarthritis sufferers an activity that’s both enjoyable and beneficial to pain relief. The study has already encouraged one member of the Pace Setters to renew her interest in knitting in a quest to find that very relief.

Barbara Berry, 83, hadn’t knit for 60 years before this study started. She hopes knitting will bring some welcomed improvement to the pain and mobility issues her arthritis has caused her. Lately, she’s had trouble doing day-to-day tasks like opening a bottle of water.

“I’m willing to try (knitting),” she said despite being a little self-conscious that learning to knit again might be difficult at her age.

Nerves aside, these women are not just knitting for the sake of science; they, along with a bigger group of non-arthritis sufferers, donate all their knitted blankets to the sick kids at CHEO.

“It makes you feel so good when you’re thinking of the little ones,” said Dinu.

The Pace Setters rely on fundraising dollars to knit the blankets. Last year, they raised $105 from their Christmas party, a figure that the Billings Bridge building manager matched, leaving them with $210 to buy yarn and knitting supplies.

Brosseau suspects that the combined physical act of knitting and the kind gesture of donating blankets will help them to self-manage their pain and morning stiffness without primarily relying on medications.

“I wrote a little case report about (osteoarthritis in the hands), and it seems to relieve pain and morning stiffness daily,” she said. Brosseau was inspired to pursue her study by her mother’s friend who would knit to relieve her arthritis pain.

“Apparently it would relieve her for four hours,” she said. “It seems to work.”

The pilot study will last six weeks, and Brosseau hopes that she will be able to reproduce it on a bigger scale.

“If I can help people with very simple things in life that can help them daily, that would be a plus,” she said.

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