Carson Demer’s Interview for Knitting Comfortably


PL- What first gave you the idea to marry your two lives (Physical Therapy & Knitting) into this book?

CD –Long before the book, even before I was knitting seriously, about the year 2000, I got injured from using computer keyboards. It was at a time when people sort of knew that there were good and bad habits for computer use, but fewer people were spending huge amounts of time on them than today so it was less a part of the daily concern as it hopefully is today. I was an exception and I was using them in a really stressful situation for 12-14 hours a day. It is the perfect storm for injury and I got very injured. I spent 2 years under the care of PTs and hand therapists rehabbing the injuries. It was interesting to see injuries from the other side of the table. I’d treated patients who had these injuries for years and I developed a much keener empathy for my patients.

When the injuries were better I went back to being a manual therapist and started seeing a lot of patients in the clinic with the same injuries I’d just experienced who were also knitters. I have to tell you I’m not the kind of PT would tell a knitter that they need to necessarily stop knitting because they have a certain diagnosis, or that knitting is even the cause. It may be a contributor, but it’s unusual for knitting to claim full responsibility. So as I interviewed my patients I discovered a real knowledge gap in their understanding of how these injuries happen and how knitting and other activities contribute to them – just like I had experienced a couple years earlier. So I decided to start teaching classes at my LYS (Imagiknit, which is owned by a former PT – Alison Isaacs) and learned that not only did I want knitters to have this information, but that they were ready for it too. Shortly after I met and became friends with Cat Bordhi who had envisioned a book about self-care for knitters and when I told her that I’d been thinking of writing a book about ergonomics for knitters she invited me to a Visionary Authors writing retreat and became a champion of the project. Total kismet! And, a completely different direction than I saw myself going in knitting. My pre-PT education was in art and design and what I love about knitting is designing stuff.

PL – What is (admit it) a bad ergonomic habit in your life that you still fight against.

CD – Just one? Just like any knitter I have plenty of ergo demons to fight. One is using my laptop more than I wish I need to. Laptops don’t allow simultaneous neutral postures in the upper quarter (neck, shoulders, elbows, and wrists) because of their size unless you add peripherals like keyboards, risers, etc. We trade portability and efficiency for safety in using this device. Since I travel quite a bit I’m often working on my laptop but also don’t want to carry a lot of extra stuff with me because it complicates travel (bad reason!). Total disclosure – I also have to keep reminding myself to stand more when I’m at home with time to knit and Lily (my poodle) curled up on the couch. It’s hard to break away from the cuddles and the coziness.

PL – Do you have a guilty pleasure / reward when you take a break from work?

CD – Spinning. It’s a really special happy place for me. If I’m on the road and can’t spin (usually teaching at an event) then it’s straight to the marketplace to inhale some yarn fumes. Total comfort!

PL – What’s your knitting white whale? The knitting mountain you have yet to climb?

CD – You ask good (tough) questions, Patty Lyons! I suppose it would be to publish more design work. I’ve only got a couple patterns out there that were commissioned by yarn companies. But it might be fun to finally get a line of work out for others to knit. I think it’s an honor to see someone wearing something you’ve designed. And design, for me, is a great medium for honing self-awareness and an understanding of your personal point of view – what you find interesting (aesthetically, structurally, texturally, etc.) and then communicating it in a way that is interesting and compelling enough for other knitters to want to make it. I really admire designers whose work provides that, and who show you what makes them tick. It’s brave and scary and maybe that’s why I haven’t pushed myself to do more. That and I’ve been working on a book for like 8 years!

PL – If you had to choose one of the most common challenges for a short person (hmm, I wonder who Patty is talking about) who spends hours on the computer what would it be and what would be your most valuable advice.

CD – Do you really want me to read you on this? Okay, with (truly) no one in particular in mind, and with all the love and respect for the petite framed people out there, here’s what I think. Many, if not most of the time when I work with someone who is below the 95% for height (around 5-feet or smaller), they don’t want their work surface to reflect their height. I’m sure there are a million reasons why, but the bottom line is if your chair, desk, etc. don’t fit you should change them. You wouldn’t wear shoes that are too big, would you?

I remember working with a nurse once who was about 4’ 9” and in a lot of pain trying to use standard sized equipment. I explained all the “whys” and “hows” and she agreed to let me help her adjust the space to fit her. When we finished she said, “It looks like a kindergartner works here. Put it all back!” She preferred to be in discomfort rather than show her true height to the world and herself. Again, there are a million reasons why she probably felt this way, but I’m a physical therapist, not a psychotherapist. So she gets to do the other work and at least now she knows what she needs.

But I have a feeling that’s not what you’re asking so I’m going to give you a more practical answer. Chairs. Chairs are tools that are essential to all jobs that require sitting. Most people don’t think of chairs as tools I’m afraid, and so will settle for whatever comes their way without thought for how it fits or what it was designed for. People who are under around 5’3”, 5’4” are unlikely to be comfortable in a chair designed for the 95% (so will people close and above 6’ tall). So my advice is to get a chair that fits and don’t be afraid to spend a little money on the bells and whistles a shorter person needs. Most chairs will have a height adjustment feature, but a shorter person may need one with a shorter cylinder to get their feet on the ground (standard cylinders are 6” and petite people often need one that’s 4”). A seat “slider” is essential for heights outside the 95% because the seat will be too deep for shorter people and too shallow for taller ones. It adds a little to the final cost, but that $100 or so is money well spent if your work requires you to sit and use a keyboard. Stores that deal specifically with office furniture are the place to go. Skip the big box stores because their product line is designed for the 95% and you aren’t likely to get what you need. Also skip the store whose focus is on the design element of their furniture. Not to say your chair can’t be attractive but chairs are functional tools and with regard to their use it should be function over form in choosing one. So ask the dealer to show you petite size chairs even if you don’t see them on the showroom floor. A good dealer will have them.

Now, this can be a slippery slope because if you have an adjustable chair and not an adjustable desk you’re in trouble again. It’s too bad that wide spectrum adjustability isn’t a default feature in home office furniture, but it just isn’t (for many reasons).So it’s on the user to know what they need and where to get it. That’s pretty challenging for someone who doesn’t specialize in ergonomics! So here’s a tip, if you can’t afford a chair and an adjustable desk, get a foot rest to raise the floor so that when you’re at the keyboard your shoulders can hang at your side, your elbows are at your waist, and your wrists are straight and not above your elbow. This will keep your wrists and forearms safer and more comfortable without spending extra money. And, while I’m sure you didn’t ask this question about anyone in particular, the knitting world needs Patty Lyons to remain injury free. So do what I say.

THANKS CARSON!!

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