Doctors and Knitting

Last Friday, an article on the front page of the second section of our Madison newspaper was titled “Therapy in your hands.”  A large picture of a skein of pink yarn on someone’s lap with hands holding knitting needles accompanied the article.

I thought it was going to be about occupational therapy.

But then I looked at the subtitle:  “As the age-old craft of knitting makes a comeback, doctors praise its benefits to both mind and body.”  Doctors!?  

This may sound like whining, but I simply mean to draw attention to the fact that we are not “there” yet.  Occupational therapy, with its rich history of theory, research, education and practice that focuses on occupation in our lives, continues to be invisible in much of our public and private media. Quotes from the two doctors interviewed for the article on their beliefs and understandings about the relationship between knitting and health are presented as innovative and noteworthy new insights.  Occupational therapy is mentioned briefly once in reference to a research article about knitting and mood changes published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy in 2013.

I appreciate that we were at least mentioned, and I fully recognize that knitting does not equal occupational therapy, but . . .

This husband and wife doctor-duo has published a book titled, “The Creativity Cure:  Building Happiness with Your Own Two Hands.”  The article in my newspaper states that the wife (psychiatrist) “lauds handiwork as a tool for alleviating anxiety and depression” and the husband (orthopedic surgeon and president of the New York Society of Surgery of the Hand) says “knitting can prevent arthritis and tendinitis.”  To me, the first statement does not represent new thinking, and the second statement is just, frankly, not defensible.

Going further, the surgeon-doctor is credited with saying that, “Handiwork such as knitting requires a forceful but not-too-strenuous use of the fingers while also incorporating the wrists and forearms for unraveling yarn and lifting the garment.”  For those already “suffering from arthritis”, he is said to recommend “soaking hands in warm water to loosen the joints before use, and choosing thicker needles, which are easier to hold”.  Sound familiar?  We have a term for this kind of thinking — activity analysis; this analytical approach to one’s engagement in daily life is part of our holy grail in occupational therapy.

I recognize that inaccuracies abound in newspaper reporting.   Also, I have not read their book, published in 2012.  Perhaps, in the book, occupational therapy theory and practice is more adequately represented and more deeply embedded throughout.  I hope so.  

I’d like to believe that occupational therapy is immediately called to mind when practice and research focus on human occupation and health. And I’d like to feel that we are an integral part of whoever or whatever is bringing the health and occupation message to people in our everyday worlds.  That I would gladly cheer.

Reactions?   Comments?

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“Therapy in your hands.  As the age-old craft of knitting makes a comeback, doctors praise its benefits to both mind and body.”  Wisconsin State Journal, October 10, 2014.  Originally from the Sacramento Bee, Sammy Caiola.

3 thoughts on “Doctors and Knitting

  1. Betty, what a timely and critical blog post you’ve just made! Yes, I fear that we are in very real danger of losing our place in health care and prevention because we are not well-enough known, published and talked about outside our own circles. With the “new” emphasis on health promotion, wellness and prevention, combined with WHO’s ICF statements of several years ago, many other fields are seeing the need to focus in areas that have long been our domain…as you point out so well.. What do we do about this? If we don’t get ourselves “out there” fast, I do fear for our survival. Oy vey!

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  2. Occupational therapists need not worry: this is not new. There’s a new knitting as therapy book here in the UK, written by a physio. Made me smile: at least Wilcock was referenced but otherwise limited. The surgeon general in your article is wrong about osteoarthritis (I don’t know about rheumatoid): I have it and knit regularly, but it’s less painful to use fine wool and thin needles and knit small things. But I might be wrong too: the joy of occupational therapy is not learning about occupation and health from experts in books and magazine articles but discovering its extraordinary potential through direct experience. .

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