Few people outside our industry understand the physical demands we experience by being on our feet for long hours, not to mention the precarious positions we find ourselves in to establish the perfect finger angle or to blow-dry a fringe without providing the add-on service of a lap dance for the guest in our chair! Hairdressers are at significant risk for repetitive use injuries (such as carpal tunnel syndrome), as well as back and neck issues, including slipped disks. So, to have longevity as a salon professional, our physical health must be a priority. Let’s chat about some of the most common challenges we all face and some quick tips on reducing the risk of a forced early retirement because of a work-induced injury.
The most obvious of all risk is our hands, wrists, and fingers. Our digits experience pretty high demand throughout the day, so starting every day with a warm up and some stretching helps to keep them limber. We even created a video on my favorite ways to go about this, and believe it or not, I still do these every day!
- Extend arms straight out in front of you with palms up and slightly above your shoulder.
- With your right hand, grab the pinky and ring finger of the left hand, gently stretch them back and hold.
- Now move to the ring finger and middle finger and repeat (always hold two fingers when doing this).
- Repeat on opposite hand.
- Return to original arm position with both arms extended.
- Starting on right hand, curl the thumb in to touch the palm without moving any other finger, then curl index, then middle, the ring, and then pinky until you are making a fist.
- Repeat on left hand and then reverse the process opening only one finger at a time.
- Now create a V (for Value!) or rabbit ears with the pointer and middle finger of the left hand (right hand if you’re a lefty) and a toy gun with the right. Shoot the rabbit ears and quickly the positions trade hands - the rabbit jumps from hand to hand.
- Continue this process for a minute or two as to build dexterity and warm up the muscles in the hands.
Another significant area of concern is our neck and back. Our Education Director, Andrew Carruthers, experienced this first hand. “I was beginning to have significant pain under my right shoulder blade that slowly made it’s way under my right arm and down into my hand. It even caused numbness and tingling, which really freaked me out!" says Carruthers. "I thought for sure I was heading towards carpal tunnel surgery. I searched for relief through both traditional and non-traditional medicine and nothing was helping besides downing more ibuprofen than I felt comfortable taking… it was starting to affect my work. Luckily, right when I started to lose hope, I met Sandy Vojik who is a very talented young Physical Therapist and Pilates instructor at Pinnacle Performance in Salt Lake City. She quickly found the root of the problem, which was a vertebra in my neck that actually started to shift forward from 16 years of hanging my head forward to get a closer look at my work behind the chair. That vertebra was putting pressure on the nerves in my neck and then transmitting pain through my shoulder and down through my arm. It took quite a few sessions of physical therapy and Pilates practice to readjust my body, but luckily it helped relieve the symptoms. Now, to maintain I do about 20 or so minutes of Pilates or yoga every morning to keep my core strong and my spine in proper position… I’ve also been way more conscious about how I stand at the salon.”
We reached out to Sandy Vojik PT, DPT for some tips on maintaining the best possible posture to avoid the common spine and neck issues that usually come along with a long career in the salon. Here were her suggestions:
“Having a solid base of support for the shoulder girdle is important for people whose occupation requires utilization of the arms," says Vojik. "Finding optimal posture while working is a simple way to ensure you’re giving your upper body the support it needs. Figure 1 (below) depicts different postures. When one stands with 'ideal alignment,' as seen in postural alignment A, the line of gravity passes through the body so each joint can handle compressive forces efficiently. When cutting or styling hair, try positioning yourself with the following cues:
- "Feet: Keep your body weight positioned over the arches of your feet.
- "Knees: Be sure they are not locked out.
- "Pelvis and ribs: These should be positioned so ribs are stacked directly over the pelvis
- "Head: Keep this directly over the center of your rib cage.
"These cues should help you optimize your spinal position and give your head, neck, and shoulders the support they need. If you’re experiencing discomfort that is affecting your ability to work or changing your quality of life, I would suggest seeking the help of a physical therapist."
Good health is always a good idea regardless of our chosen career field - if we want a long and profitable career, protecting our physical health is not an option, it’s a necessity. But, avoid the feeling that you need to change everything all at once! Just make a simple 10% shift in your routine. Maybe try the finger and wrist exercises or sign up for a Pilates or yoga class once a week. Whatever you do, make the shift now and think in a preventative type of mindset. If you wait until the damage is done, it may be a long road to recovery. We love hairdressers at Sam Villa and we want to see you happy, healthy, and successful, so we will continue you to bring you relevant education, as well as ergonomic tools to support you in that goal.
Aspire for More!