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Transcript – Programme 11: Music and Knitting

Paul Evans learns to knit, and, how music can be used for pain relief

To lis­ten to this pro­gramme, please click here.

Paul Evans gets a knit­ting les­son when he vis­its the Stitch­links group in Bath, where peo­ple use craft activ­i­ties to man­age their pain. Bet­san Corkhill and Dr Mike Osborn talk about the med­ical sci­ence behind it, while the knit­ting group talk about their own expe­ri­ences. We also meet Dr Lau­ra Mitchell who sub­jects vol­un­teers to pain tol­er­ance test­ing to see how music can help relieve feel­ings of pain.

Issues cov­ered in this pro­gramme include: Music, knit­ting, mind­ful­ness, arts and crafts, pain per­cep­tion, social con­tact, group pro­gramme, med­i­ta­tive state, PTSD, psy­chol­o­gy research, alter­na­tive ther­a­py, con­fi­dence and relaxation.

Paul Evans: Hel­lo and wel­come to Air­ing Pain, a pro­gramme brought to you by Pain Con­cern. I’m Paul Evans.

Dr. Lau­ra Mitchell: What we’ve been doing for the last ten years now is using exper­i­men­tal­ly-induced pain in the lab, cir­cu­lat­ing very, very cold water in a water bath; they put their hands past the wrist lev­el – you know, there’s a real con­cen­tra­tion of nerves in our wrist area that kind of make this the kind of nas­ti­est bit, that make it quite painful.

Evans: Stu­dents vol­un­teer­ing to be in pain! Sure­ly it couldn’t get worse, could it?

Mitchell: All par­tic­i­pants in the study lis­tened to Bil­ly Con­nol­ly. And although that also had an effect on their pain per­cep­tion, we haven’t found any­thing else that has been so effec­tive as…

Evans: Effec­tive as what? Keep lis­ten­ing, you’ll find out later.


Woman: I used to be sat indoors, I’d been in me wheel­chair for 30 years; I used to sit indoors all day long on my own, when my hus­band was at work, look­ing at the four walls, and in the end it was stay­ing in bed all day.

Evans: In today’s edi­tion of Air­ing Pain, we’re look­ing at two arts and crafts whose ther­a­peu­tic qual­i­ties may have been recog­nised by their prac­ti­tion­ers for cen­turies, even mil­len­nia, yet which have only come under sci­en­tif­ic scruti­ny over the last decades. 

Knit­ting has been around for near­ly a thou­sand years. Sol­diers in the First World War suf­fer­ing from what was then known as shell­shock, now post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der, were some­times giv­en knit­ting by way of ther­a­py. I spent an after­noon in Bath’s Roy­al Unit­ed Hos­pi­tal pain clin­ic, where the Stitch­links group were meet­ing. Stitch­links is an online sup­port net­work for peo­ple who enjoy using crafts ther­a­peu­ti­cal­ly, and the brains, and ener­gy, behind it is Bet­san Corkhill.

Bet­san Corkhill: Up until six years ago, I was a senior phys­io­ther­a­pist spe­cial­is­ing in neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions and care of the elder­ly. I then went to work in the com­mu­ni­ty with lots of dif­fer­ent age groups, and the patients I encoun­tered there – a lot of them are very demo­ti­vat­ed. They were lit­er­al­ly sit­ting behind four walls, not see­ing any­body from day to day. And my role as a com­mu­ni­ty phys­io­ther­a­pist was an assess­ment role, so there was no time to actu­al­ly give those patients what they actu­al­ly need­ed, because I was expect­ed to leave them a list of exer­cis­es to do to get them all mobile and yet I could tell you with 100 per cent cer­tain­ty that they wouldn’t do the exer­cis­es I left them. And I felt that they need­ed to go back a step fur­ther, and we actu­al­ly need­ed to get them inter­est­ed in the world again, and give them an out­side inter­est get them social con­tact, before they would then devel­op an inter­est in doing exer­cise and self-man­ag­ing their conditions. 

So, actu­al­ly, I left phys­io­ther­a­py because I got so frus­trat­ed at not being able to do this and, to cut a very long sto­ry short, I end­ed up hav­ing a com­plete change of career and becom­ing a free­lance pro­duc­tion edi­tor with a range of mag­a­zines. And I end­ed up work­ing on a craft port­fo­lio, and my task was to read all the let­ters that came in – and there were lit­er­al­ly sack­fuls every day – for the knit­ting and cross-stitch­ing mag­a­zines, and about 99 per cent of these let­ters were sto­ries from peo­ple who had long-term ill­ness who were man­ag­ing these ill­ness­es with knit­ting and cross-stitch­ing. And imme­di­ate­ly my med­ical head went back on and I thought ‘Ooh, this would be a very inter­est­ing way, a very easy way and cheap way of actu­al­ly get­ting these peo­ple that I saw in their homes moti­vat­ed again’, because these sto­ries were telling of how they become moti­vat­ed, how they were look­ing for­ward to the next project, how they were look­ing for­ward to the next day, how they didn’t have to take their pain med­ica­tion when they knitted.

And four years ago I approached the pain unit here to ask if they’d be inter­est­ed in set­ting up a group, to see if it worked. And that group’s been very suc­cess­ful – I get referred indi­vid­ual patients for knit­ting ther­a­py and those patients who knit at home, on their own, are show­ing just as much improve­ment as the patients who come to the group. So, although the group is very impor­tant for the social con­tact, the knit­ting itself is work­ing in some way.



Speak­er 1: ‘I’m knit­ting a blan­ket for the seals. [laugh­ter] Weren’t we told that, don’t you remember?’

Speak­er 2: The seals?

Speak­er 1: Bet­san! Said she wants some…

Ann: ‘Oh, yes, yes, she wants a jack­et, yes, yes.’

Speak­er 1: Oh, thank you, Ann — a jack­et? I thought she want­ed a blanket.

Ann: It might have been blan­kets, I don’t know. We’ll have to stitch it up.

Speak­er 1: And I crocheted…

Speak­er 3: Oh my word, she’s gone fancy.

Speak­er 1: Oh well, it’s a fun­ny shape.


Corkhill: It appears to be a mod­el craft, in that we think move­ment of hands is very impor­tant in some way because the hands have a large rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the brain; there’s alter­nate co-ordi­nate move­ments of the hands and the move­ments are rhyth­mic in nature and knit­ters will fall into their own per­son­al rhythm and that induces a form of med­i­ta­tion, a med­i­ta­tive-like state. Med­i­ta­tion is being taught and rec­om­mend­ed for patients with long-term health prob­lems, but it’s fan­tas­ti­cal­ly dif­fi­cult to teach some­body who is in pain or is depressed how to med­i­tate. And the clin­i­cians will tell you that it’s almost impos­si­ble, in many cas­es, to do this and par­tic­u­lar­ly with the elder­ly. What we’ve been doing is giv­ing peo­ple a knit­ting kit and show­ing them how to knit and it seems to be a nat­ur­al side effect of knitting.



Speak­er 4: The seal would be pleased to see that, wouldn’t it?

Speak­er 1: Look! Look, girls! The seals won’t mind, will they? No, the seals won’t mind.

Kim: It’s not bad cro­chet, either.

Speak­er 1: Oh thank you Kim! …Oh! Com­ing from you, that’s very good. 

Speak­er 5: So, they’re for the seals.

Speak­er 6: A flop­py seal and a wet seal.

[Indis­tinct conversation]

Speak­er 7: I didn’t know they need­ed blankets.

Speak­er 8: They want them in the… seal sanctuary.

Speak­er 1: I think so.


Evans: Going back to this med­i­ta­tive state. Watch­ing my wife knit­ting every sin­gle night and the clack­ety-clack of the nee­dles – how can that be med­i­ta­tive? An enor­mous amount of con­cen­tra­tion, from my mind, seems to go into it.

Corkhill: What they describe is that their hands are occu­pied in an auto­mat­ic move­ment, and they describe a feel­ing of their mind being total­ly freed up to sort out their thoughts, to think through prob­lems; some peo­ple say that they can think through very dark prob­lems that they were unable to think through with­out knit­ting — so it’s very sim­i­lar to mind­ful med­i­ta­tion in that way, in that you can think through prob­lems in that moment with­out becom­ing stressed by them. 

There are lots of oth­er lit­tle things, too, all the psy­cho­log­i­cal issues of sud­den­ly becom­ing the mas­ter of a skill and a lot of these patients will say ‘This is the first thing I’ve been suc­cess­ful at for years, this is the first con­struc­tive thing I’ve done for years.’ They find some­thing that they are suc­cess­ful at which can be done from their arm­chair and that encour­ages them then to try oth­er things. So it seems to be turn­ing around this sort of jug­ger­naut of back­ward think­ing thought cycles and giv­ing them some­thing pos­i­tive to focus on.

It’s almost cer­tain­ly, I would say, stim­u­lat­ing the reward sys­tem of the brain: if you expend an effort to car­ry out a task you’re reward­ed with a flush of chem­i­cals, notably dopamine, which has pain-reliev­ing prop­er­ties and is a feel-good chem­i­cal. And our patients do things like knit for char­i­ty, knit for the spe­cial care baby units, so that in turn helps them to feel good about them­selves and it changes their per­spec­tive on life: all of a sud­den, they are help­ing peo­ple in need, they are not the peo­ple in need any­more, they‘re help­ing oth­ers more in need than they are.


Speak­er 9: I like knit­ting toys; they’ve got me knit­ting toys.

Evans: So what are you knit­ting now?

Speak­er 9: So now I’m going to be knit­ting this pig, although it’s in dou­ble-knit, but I like shrink­ing them down so they’re tiny, so that’s going to be a four ply, for small­er nee­dles and then they make lit­tle tiny things instead of great big things. And I crochet.

Evans: There seems to be an ani­mal theme about this group.

[Laugh­ter, indistinguishable]


Corkhill: It also seems to have an effect on post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der. We have had patients whose post-trau­mat­ic stress symp­toms have improved dra­mat­i­cal­ly. There is research done at Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty which has shown that per­form­ing a visu­ospa­tial move­ment can actu­al­ly stop flash­backs from post-trau­mat­ic stress, so it actu­al­ly — and that paper does actu­al­ly sug­gest that activ­i­ties like knit­ting and wor­ry beads are looked at further.

Evans: What do you mean by visu­ospa­tial movement?

Corkhill: It’s move­ment real­ly in a 3D in front of you, real­ly, so it’s, it’s… a bit dif­fi­cult to describe with­out show­ing you! 

Evans: Show me later.

Corkhill: Yes. [Laugh­ter]


Evans: You’re lis­ten­ing to Air­ing Pain, pre­sent­ed this week by me, Paul Evans. And please bear in mind that, whilst we believe the infor­ma­tion and opin­ions on Air­ing Pain are accu­rate based on the best judg­ments avail­able, you should always con­sult your health pro­fes­sion­als on any mat­ter relat­ing to your health and well­be­ing. He or she is the only per­son who knows you and your cir­cum­stances, and there­fore the appro­pri­ate action to take on your behalf. 

Today I’ve joined the Stitch­links group at Bath’s Roy­al Unit­ed Hos­pi­tal. Mike Osborn’s a psy­chol­o­gist in the pain clinic.

Mike Osborn: All our patients have to live with a very long-term and unpleas­ant con­di­tion which is not par­tic­u­lar­ly well under­stood. It’s fair enough to say it real­ly changes your life, and man­ag­ing it is very dif­fi­cult and for some peo­ple you can end up very flat. What the Stitch­links group can do is help peo­ple to start to get back into doing some­thing. The pain’s still there, the pain’s always there, but to be able to do things despite the pain, to be able to sort of start to feel a lit­tle bit more active and then to, you know, retrieve a lit­tle bit of pride, real­ly, a lit­tle bit of dig­ni­ty, which pain sort of sucks out of you, or tries its best to.

Evans: One of the notice­able things walk­ing into a group like that is – there is no evi­dence of pain, hang­dog expressions…

Osborn: No, no. Occa­sion­al­ly, you know, peo­ple flinch and stuff but I mean, the pub­lic, per­haps, rep­u­ta­tion of pain patients is being kind of quite weak peo­ple, con­stant­ly in agony – is non­sense real­ly. You can’t tell from the out­side what a pain patient feels inside, and they are very, very good, on the whole, at keep­ing it to them­selves. And the real­i­ty is that despite their pub­lic rep­u­ta­tion, they have an extreme­ly high pain tol­er­ance – they just have to live with a lot of pain in order to do that. You don’t know what pain peo­ple are feeling. 

Evans: But is that one of the ben­e­fits of a group sys­tem as well, they don’t feel they have to hide anything?

Osborn: It’s prob­a­bly the dom­i­nant ben­e­fit, if we’re hon­est, it’s – they’re in a set­ting, in a place where every­body under­stands, it’s all unspo­ken. They don’t have to wear as heavy a mask as they would nor­mal­ly, you know, because every­body under­stands. And if one of them gets up and lies on the floor because that’s what they have to do, then nobody blinks an eye. I think being in the com­pa­ny of peo­ple that accept and under­stand is, for most pain patients, blessed relief real­ly. They spend an awful lot of time wor­ry­ing what oth­er peo­ple think, and as a result can, even in a crowd­ed room, feel quite iso­lat­ed. And this gives them a chance to not be like that, and then once you get that oppor­tu­ni­ty you can sort of – move on from there, start doing things, get­ting into things. Feel­ing a bit like your old self.


Pauline: …she’s a bit special.

Speak­er 4: She’s spe­cial? [Laugh­ter] She drinks a lot, that’s why. [Indis­tin­guish­able]

Pauline: …she doesn’t come some­times ‘cause she’s a bit wob­bly. [Laugh­ter]

Speak­er 2: Pauline!

Speak­er 3: That’s a pack of lies. [Laugh­ter]

Speak­er 2: Destroy­ing the woman’s good name.

[Laugh­ter and chat]


Corkhill: Knit­ting is a great lev­eller and what’s inter­est­ing in knit­ting groups, you have peo­ple from all dif­fer­ent back­grounds, eth­nic back­grounds as well, who sit and have some­thing in com­mon. You can have a per­son with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties sit­ting next to a uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor, and they’ll have some­thing in com­mon, some­thing to talk to, and firm friends are made in knit­ting groups.

Last week I was asked to run a group in Birm­ing­ham, of Soma­li women, as part of the pain man­age­ment pro­gramme. And the dif­fi­cul­ty with this – eth­nic minor­i­ty women who come into the coun­try – is that they don’t have con­tact with the out­side world, they’re very iso­lat­ed, they don’t speak the lan­guage. So the hope was that actu­al­ly get­ting them involved in a knit­ting group might encour­age them to socialise and com­mu­ni­cate with the health care professionals.

Evans: You’re going to teach me how to get into this med­i­ta­tive state now. I haven’t done this in 47 years, when my grand­moth­er taught me.

Corkhill: Well, you might very well remem­ber, so let’s have a go. What I’ve done is I’ve cast on for you. Okay, because the aim of this is to get into the flow of move­ment, okay, so don’t wor­ry about any mis­takes you make or any­thing like that. So I’ll show you first.

Evans: Cast on is where you put the first row of stitches…

Corkhill: That’s right, yes, okay? We can learn how to do that when you’ve got into the flow of move­ments. Right, so you put your nee­dle into the first stitch, front to back, just get a ten­sion, it doesn’t mat­ter how you hold this yarn, okay, you just get a bit of ten­sion with the yarn. You wind it round the nee­dle, pull the stitch through, and the old stitch off, okay? So you’re, what you’re doing is mak­ing a new stitch on this right hand nee­dle, okay? So you say to your­self ‘round, pull the new stitch through, and off’.

Evans: So, you’ve done two stitch­es for me, so I put my right hand, I catch it through there…

Corkhill: Front to back [ahhh] front to back, like that.

Evans: This is the cardi­gan way of knit­ting then. [Laugh­ter]

Corkhill: Round, yep, pull that stitch through…

Evans: Catch it underneath…

Corkhill: Catch it under­neath, and off.

Evans: And off.

Corkhill: Okay, that’s it, your first stitch.

Evans: And already I’m smil­ing. [Laugh­ter] A smile is worth a thou­sand pills. I don’t want to bore you while I get to grips with my sec­ond stitch, so in the mean­time we’re going to leave Stitch­links and look at how anoth­er of my great pas­sions could be hav­ing a greater ben­e­fit that even I imagined.

Now I’ve been a music lover all my life, and I’ve always been drawn to music that reflects and rein­forces what­ev­er mood I’m in. Now that’s not unusu­al, near­ly all of us inter­act with music one way or the oth­er, whether we realise it or not. Doc­tor Lau­ra Mitchell, of Glas­gow Cale­don­ian Uni­ver­si­ty, is an exper­i­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist, whose back­ground is in music psy­chol­o­gy. In broad terms, that’s look­ing at the way we engage with music, what it does to us phys­i­cal­ly and how it makes us feel.

But does music have a val­ue in the field of pain management?

Dr. Lau­ra Mitchell: Peo­ple are engag­ing with all types of music, far more than they ever were before, obvi­ous­ly because our tech­nol­o­gy is moved on so much in, like, quite a short space of time. They have very spe­cif­ic types that they like them­selves, and they have a great rela­tion­ship with their own favourite music. So one of my col­leagues at Strath­clyde Uni­ver­si­ty calls this the ‘Dar­ling they’re play­ing our tune’ effect. That, you know, the music you had at your wed­ding, or at your eigh­teenth birth­day, or any sig­nif­i­cant event in your life, con­tin­ues to have a huge emo­tion­al con­nec­tion with you, that when you lis­ten to it you might be brought back right to that moment again and remem­ber how you felt, and feel the same way.

What we’ve been doing for the last ten years now is using exper­i­men­tal­ly-induced pain in the lab, cir­cu­lat­ing very, very cold water in a water bath; they put their hands past the wrist lev­el – you know, there’s a real con­cen­tra­tion of nerves in our wrist area that kind of make this the kind of nas­ti­est bit, that make it quite painful. Most peo­ple can only put up with it for real­ly about a minute. And what I do is I stop peo­ple after five min­utes, I don’t let them go on for a long peri­od of time doing this, that’s long enough to see how they respond to it. And we’ve had healthy vol­un­teers, peo­ple come in that don’t suf­fer from pain con­di­tions, to under­go this, and we’ve had them bring in their own favourite music to the lab and we’ve com­pared that to dif­fer­ent types of music and to oth­er types of stim­uli to see what’s effective.

The research that had been done on this before had been quite, you know, emphat­ic in say­ing that there will be a type of music that will be effec­tive, that it’s like­ly to be relax­ing music, very pleas­ant clas­si­cal music that would be effec­tive. We found that peo­ple were actu­al­ly bring­ing in many, many dif­fer­ent types, they were bring­ing in dance music, you know, to hard­core punk music, to styles that you would nev­er, ever expect that would have any sort of pain reliev­ing qualities.

How­ev­er, when we put them through the pain tol­er­ance test­ing what we’ve found, real­ly, by and large, it’s that it’s the music that you love, that you have a con­nec­tion with, that is most effec­tive for you, that helps you to put up with pain and may even reduce how much inten­si­ty of the pain that you feel. You know, this was a sur­prise even to me, that these types of music that oth­er peo­ple might well feel ‘Oh, that’s awful!’, you know, ‘How could you — that’s painful music — how could you even lis­ten to that?’, that, if some­body has a con­nec­tion with it and it’s what they love, that it will be effec­tive for them.

Now, the stud­ies that have been done have sug­gest­ed that music’s dis­tract­ing: it dis­tracts your atten­tion from the pain that you feel. But we’ve com­pared it to a num­ber of oth­er stim­uli that the oth­er stud­ies have found dis­tract­ing, such as peo­ple doing math­e­mat­i­cal tasks, sort of some­thing that is men­tal­ly chal­leng­ing, we’ve had them lis­ten­ing to humour, so lis­ten­ing to audio­taped stand-up com­e­dy – this was done in Scot­land so all par­tic­i­pants in the study lis­tened to Bil­ly Con­nol­ly – and although that also had an effect on their pain per­cep­tion, we haven’t found any­thing else that has been so effec­tive as the music.

So it high­lights to the health pro­fes­sion­als and to clin­i­cians that this may be a very use­ful thing that peo­ple can involve them­selves in their every­day health­care and their every­day approach to deal­ing with their pain, and also that I hope that it’ll be brought into hos­pi­tals for use in painful pro­ce­dures such as peo­ple get­ting their burns dress­ing changes, or peo­ple hav­ing intra­venous injec­tions, or any­thing like that that’s painful to go through. So, the great thing about this and about music is that it can hope­ful­ly be involved across dif­fer­ent spheres of pain care.

Evans: That’s Dr. Lau­ra Mitchell of Glas­gow Cale­don­ian Uni­ver­si­ty. And for me at least, lis­ten­ing to music could be the per­fect com­pan­ion to my new­found skill.


Corkhill: …And off. So just use those words in your own mind, okay?

Evans: Front to back.

Corkhill: Front to back. In… Round… Through… And off.

Evans: There’s a great scarf com­ing here.

Corkhill: There is. I’ve cast on just enough for you to make a scarf…

Evans: As you’ve guessed, we’re back at Stitch­links at Bath’s Roy­al Unit­ed Hos­pi­tal where I’m Bet­san Corkhill’s newest pupil.

Woman: I don’t like lit­tle wool, I’m one for chunky wool… ‘Cause I can’t hold the needles!(laughs) I make up me own pat­terns… that’s because I can’t use a nor­mal one (laughs). I can’t fath­om them out.

Paul: Did you knit before com­ing to this group?

Woman: No.

Paul: So tell me what this knit­ting group means to you.

Woman: Get­ting out of the house. I used to be sat indoors — I been in me wheel­chair for 30 years and I used to sit indoors all day long on my own, while my hus­band was at work, look­ing at the four walls, and in the end it was stay­ing in bed all day — which my doc­tor didn’t like. And I start­ed com­ing here to the pain clin­ic and enjoy­ing to do all me knit­ting now and come and see me ladies every week. This good lady Sarah taught me how to cast on, because I couldn’t cast on, I was hope­less! (laughs) I do it dif­fer­ent to every­body else, takes me a lot longer… I’m get­ting there, I’m real­ly get­ting there.

Evans: Oh, dear… I’ve been purl­ing instead of plain­ing haven’t I?

Corkhill: That’s alright. In through the front…

Evans: Front.. front to back.

Corkhill: Front to back. [yes]

Evans: Must remem­ber: front to back. I’m a lit­tle bit obses­sive… Is this going to do me harm?

Corkhill: Very def­i­nite­ly not, because it’s a good obses­sion to have [laughs]. It puts you in to that relaxed med­i­ta­tive state and what we try and tell patients is that if they can do a lit­tle bit every day, it gives their mind a bit of a rest, a bit of a break every day, so it low­ers the stress lev­els every day and you need to do that on a dai­ly basis… You’re going back­wards again.

Evans: Oh! Front to back!

Corkhill: That’s it! Yes.

Evans: So, do the ladies here get referred by the pain clin­ic, or…?

Corkhill: Referred by the — main­ly by the nurse prac­ti­tion­er, but the con­sul­tants have start­ed refer­ring now too because we start­ed the group near­ly four years ago now, the doc­tors can see how suc­cess­ful it’s been that they are now refer­ring, and also refer­ring patients for indi­vid­ual knit­ting treat­ment and the patients that come for indi­vid­ual treat­ment have com­plex — may have com­plex prob­lems, maybe psy­chi­atric prob­lems as well, or they may not be com­fort­able in a group sit­u­a­tion as yet, then we can set their goals as com­ing to the group for the first time, for example.


Evans: Mhm… It’s a love­ly colour. It’s a — well, it’s not pink, what is it called-

Speak­er 1: No, it’s more a salmonly colour…

Evans: Yes.

Speak­er 1: But we have a pink thing here. Kim over there, she doesn’t like pink, or her hus­band don’t — she can add pink, she can’t have pink! [Laughs] She was cro­chet­ing me a cush­ion, ‘cause I’m hav­ing my first grand­child next March, and she asked me what colour flow­ers I want­ed put on it… And I said, ‘Pink!’ [Laughs] So she had to do all these lit­tle pink flowers…

Evans: So if you’re hav­ing your first grand­child, you’ll be knit­ting more?

Speak­er 1: Yes — hope­ful­ly — if it fits! I’ve got to design them so they’re going to fit a new baby…

Evans: So, you use a wheel­chair, you are housebound?

Speak­er 1: Yeah.

Evans: And since learn­ing to knit with Stitch­links, it’s com­plete­ly freed you up.

Speak­er 1: Yep. See­ing the weath­er, I thought I was going to be the only one here, but no, we’re all here, enjoy­ing ourselves…


Evans: Can any­body join Stitchlinks?

Corkhill: Yes. We have mem­bers from all over the world and actu­al­ly that works quite well because, being online, any­body can join, it’s free, there’s all sorts of infor­ma­tion on there on how to use knit­ting ther­a­peu­ti­cal­ly… It’s a link with the research projects that we’re doing so it’s a link with infor­ma­tion that’s always accu­rate and always will be accu­rate, because some­thing like this could be sen­sa­tion­alised very eas­i­ly. But we also have a forum, for exam­ple we have one mem­ber who is iso­lat­ed on a farm in South Africa with fibromyal­gia and house­bound; there isn’t any hope that she will receive pain man­age­ment infor­ma­tion, but oth­ers who have been on pain man­age­ment cours­es in the UK, in Amer­i­ca and Aus­tralia, are able to help her. So, it works very well in that way. And it’s a trust­ed place where peo­ple can go and that’s how peo­ple use it.

The oth­er thing we’ve found is that if you pro­vide a forum where peo­ple feel safe, peo­ple with low social con­fi­dence find it much eas­i­er to talk through a key­board and using a mouse than they do face to face, and what we have found is that that has improved people’s social con­fi­dence, talk­ing to like-mind­ed peo­ple and it’s always very pos­i­tive on the group. They then go and seek out a face to face group some­where, so that sort of starts the process right from that very begin­ning of low social con­fi­dence to improved social confidence.

Evans: What sort of peo­ple find knit­ting beneficial?

Corkhill: Well, what we’ve found is those that actu­al­ly will accept that knit­ting may be ben­e­fi­cial — I know that sounds a bit strange, but the biggest prob­lem we’ve had is actu­al­ly the word ‘knit­ting’ and get­ting peo­ple over that word ‘knit­ting’. We’ve had peo­ple who have been pre­vi­ous knit­ters com­ing to the group, we’ve peo­ple who are knew to knit­ting, and we’ve even had peo­ple, main­ly men, who actu­al­ly think ‘Oh, I’ll nev­er become a knit­ter’ but actu­al­ly, once I reas­sure them that they don’t have to ‘become a knit­ter’ and all we want them to do is the process of knit­ting, they’re then quite hap­py to do it and they will knit on a reg­u­lar basis and use knit­ting as a tool to man­age their pain and to enter a med­i­ta­tive-like state, to do things like man­age pan­ic attacks, to improve their sleep pat­terns. So, any­body who’s pre­pared to try it, real­ly — it has the pos­si­bil­i­ty of being ther­a­peu­tic for them.


Evans: What are you knit­ting there?

Sarah: [Whis­pered] Go away.

Evans: Go away?

Speak­er 1: Sarah’s shy.

[both laugh]

Evans: And you, sir, you’re not knitting.

Speak­er 2: No, I don’t knit, I’m only here to make the tea.

[Paul laughs]

Speak­er 2: I’m dri­ver and tea.


Evans: I sup­pose you can’t put a mon­e­tary val­ue on what they’re get­ting out of it.

Osborn: You can say the health ben­e­fits are quite pro­found and quite dif­fuse, and you could prob­a­bly say with con­fi­dence that some of them won’t come into hos­pi­tal, where­as they might have before, or do things they might not have before. I wouldn’t even begin to know how much — how you would cost that, but, you know, one overnight stay in hos­pi­tal costs thou­sands, so there you go. And the health ben­e­fits are phe­nom­e­nal over the next ten, 20 years, com­pared to what can hap­pen if you real­ly do get quite dis­abled by pain and you get sec­ondary problems.

I sup­pose it’s got teeth, it’s a seri­ous thing that Betsan’s try­ing to do and it’s reliev­ing the bur­den of dis­tress and despair, and again, that’s some­thing that’s price­less and help­ing peo­ple improve their qual­i­ty of life. So it’s not a casu­al, cos­met­ic affair. Noth­ing else seems to help as much, so it’s earned its place — and, like a lot of things, ini­tial­ly peo­ple were kind of… maybe even quite deriso­ry, but now, what else is as effec­tive? I’d like to think that at some point, in the not too dis­tant future, it’s uh, — pain clin­ics and a lot of out­pa­tient places are being asked ‘Well, why haven’t you got one, because every­body else has?’, because the peo­ple that come, they run it them­selves, doesn’t cost a pen­ny real­ly. It’s priceless!

Evans: Mike Osborn, psy­chol­o­gist at the Roy­al Unit­ed Hospital’s pain clin­ic in Bath.

And that’s the end of today’s edi­tion of Air­ing Pain. If you or some­one you know had ben­e­fit­ed from lis­ten­ing to these pro­grammes and would like them to con­tin­ue, then please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to secur­ing Air­ing Pain’s future. It’s easy to donate: just go to our web­site at where you will find a ‘Make dona­tion’ but­ton at the bot­tom of the page. You can also down­load all the past edi­tions from there and, if you’d like to put a ques­tion to our pan­el of experts, or just make a com­ment about the pro­gramme, then please do so via our blog, mes­sage board, e‑mail, Face­book, Twit­ter, or even pen and paper. [all avail­able from our website]


Speak­er 1: Come on, come on, stop now… I need a blan­ket, please.


Evans: I’m going to sur­prise my wife and fin­ish off one of her jumpers.

Speak­er 1: Oh [Laughs], alright, okay.


Speak­er 2: Aim­ing high yeah?


Paul: Before we go, I just have to say that I’m still knit­ting and I’m real­ly enjoy­ing it, I’m find­ing it ben­e­fi­cial, I’m find­ing it relax­ing — so please do go to the Stitch­links web­site. It’s Stitch­links — that’s one word —, where you will find out more.


  • Bet­san Corkhill, Stitchlinks
  • Dr Mike Osborn, The Sci­ence of Stitchlinks
  • Stitch­links Mem­bers, Their Experiences
  • Dr Lau­ra Mitchell, Music and Pain.