When Justin Toves-Vincilione, a Los Angeles-based stylist and Ulta Beauty Design Team member, had such bad lower back pain that he couldn’t perform his job properly — at one point he had to use a haircutting chair to do haircuts — he knew he needed to take action.
“I just wasn’t my usual upbeat self buzzing around the salon,” he says. “One of my coworkers noticed and must’ve empathized, as she’s been in the business much longer than me. She approached me and said ‘I don’t like seeing you like this. It’s very important that you take care of your body working in this industry.’”
And he listened.
He started working out with a personal trainer to help his back pain and develop healthier habits overall. And he says while he did have to push through the pain when he began training, just a few weeks after being consistent, he started noticing marked improvements.
“When I was creating a plan with my personal trainer, he told me — and I’ll never forget this — ‘the worst thing for your body is inactivity. And working doesn’t count as activity!’”
Hairstylists have a more active job than many people — standing a majority of the day, running back and forth across the salon — but at the same time, they also frequently suffer from repetitive use injuries like carpal tunnel, tendinitis, and tennis elbow, as well as back pain, foot pain, shoulder pain and posture issues.
As a stylist, when your livelihood depends on a healthy, functioning body, it can be disconcerting when you feel like you’re physically breaking down..
Science Supports It
Not surprisingly, there’s actually research to back up the concerns hairstylists have.
A review published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology titled “Musculoskeletal health, work-related risk factors and preventive measures in hairdressing: a scoping review” found that within the 44 studies included, 19 of them provided data on musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) — injuries to the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs — to least one part of the body. According to the review, the most affected areas in hairstylists are the back, neck, shoulders, wrist and hands.
And here are some stunning stats included by the study’s authors:
- In a National German Health Survey, hairstylists/beauticians were among the top five professions with above-average prevalence for back pain.
- In a U.S. National Health Interview Survey on back pain, female hairdressers belong to the top 6 high-risk occupations for back pain.
- Data on carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) from the Maine and Loire regions in France showed that a substantial proportion of new CTS cases between 2002 and 2004 among female hairdressers were attributable to work. They belong to the top 10 high-risk occupations for CTS.
While the data is clear that hairstylists frequently suffer from aches and pains due to their occupation, the question is why exactly, and what can be done about it?
Why Stylists Are Prone to Pain
The review analyzed 15 studies specifically that discussed risk factors for MSD in hairstylists and summarized the findings into six categories:
Strenuous hand or arm postures and movements (e.g. arms above shoulder, repetition)
Awkward postures and movements of the spine (e.g. bending and twisting the back)
Workload and biomechanical strain (e.g. mechanical workload, overtime, no breaks)
Prolonged standing and sitting
Other factors (e.g. work experience, mental stress and burnout, gender or low support)
Specific hairdressing tasks (e.g. cutting, coloring or styling hair)
On one hand, this is unfortunate: These risk factors are a large and nonnegotiable part of stylists’ jobs — cutting and coloring hair can only be done a certain way, after all. On the other hand, having a concrete idea of which movements tend to cause pain can allow you to formulate a game plan to prevent it.
We talked to Nicole Thompson, an ACE-certified Personal Trainer, Medical Exercise Specialist, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach, about what hairstylists can do to prevent specific ailments.
For lower back pain specifically, Thompson recommends bird-dog, modified curl-ups, side bridges, and cat-cows. “Walking and yoga have also been shown to be helpful with managing lower back pain,” she says.
Foot pain can be complex. A few factors can be involved, says Thompson, including tight calf muscles, improper footwear, or constant standing on hard surfaces.
“To treat or prevent plantar fasciitis — which causes foot pain — it’s recommended to wear flat footwear and to avoid shoes with an elevated heel as that tends to shorten and tighten the calf muscles,” Thompson explains.
According to Thompson, some activities that can help mitigate plantar fasciitis include: stretching the calves and the plantar fascia on the bottom of the foot; myofascial release, a type of manual massage therapy you can perform on yourself; and strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the foot. Exercises such as towel crunches or marble pick-up can strengthen muscles in the foot while myofascial release can be done by rolling the bottom of the foot on a tennis or golf ball.
When it comes to elbow pain, like tennis elbow, this often results from repetitive tension overloading the wrist and finger extensor tendons. Thompson recommends specific exercises like dumbbell wrist extension to address this. Stretches, like resistive wrist extension and passive wrist flexion, should be incorporated as well. These exercises should be with no to low-resistance, high-repetition exercise format (e.g., three sets of 15-20 repetitions).
Carpal tunnel and tendonitis are also specific concerns for hairstylists.
For carpal tunnel syndrome, Thompson suggests exercises for all wrist, finger, and thumb movements after inflammation is under control. Exercises such as wrist extension/flexion, using a low-resistance band, forearm supination and pronation, and finger and thumb flexion and extension can help.
For hairstylists, De Quervain’s tenosynovitis may be common due to the repetitive motion of moving the thumb, as seen in a cutting movement. Exercises and stretches to treat this are the same for carpal tunnel, Thompson says.
One Step Further
Beyond specific corrective exercises and stretches, there are some general rules of thumb for hairstylists to feel better physically, too.
“Standing for prolonged periods of time can be hard on all parts of the body,” Thompson explains. “It’s advised to not lock the knees for extended periods, trying instead to maintain a soft bend. Also try to maintain equal weight distribution on both feet/legs and avoid favoring/putting the weight onto one side or hip hiking. If it’s feasible to stretch or move during breaks throughout the day, that could help tremendously.”
Thompson also notes that any type of dysfunction or overcompensation in the lower extremities can affect your whole body.
“For example, favoring one leg/weight shifting onto the right foot, could compromise the right hip joint and therefore create changes in the right knee, ankle, and foot.”
Because of this, Thompson recommends a full-body comprehensive exercise routine consisting of resistance training, cardio training, flexibility, and myofascial release at least once a week.
Toves-Vincilione says that with consistent exercise and a proper diet, daily tasks like blow drying very dense hair or color work that takes hours doesn’t leave him feeling exhausted. “Now, it’s safe to say that whenever I start to feel a kink or a strain, I can rely on exercise to rehabilitate or prevent further issues.”
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Beyond integrating strength training and stretching on a weekly basis, wearing and using the proper gear can make a difference in your physical health as well.
Sensei Shear Systems puts a focus on ergonomics, making scissors healthier to use. Its shears feature an offset Crane design, in which the blades are horizontal and the handle is angled downward, which keeps stylists’ hands and wrists pain-free. Its entire system of shears has essentially the same handle design as well, which means a stylist can put down one pair and pick up another without changing hand positions. To read more about the ergonomics of Sensei Shear Systems’ products, click here.
Level up your comfort and style with the latest Skechers® footwear. When you’re in Skechers, you’ll look and feel great — even on your busiest days. Thanks to the brand’s supportive cushioning and breathable Skechers Air-Cooled Memory Foam® insoles, Skechers are a great way to show off your personal style in total comfort. From their popular D’Lites® and Uno styles to sport, casual and work collections featuring Skechers Arch Fit®, Max Cushioning™ and slip-resistant technology, these fashion-forward looks work as hard as you do. For more information, visit www.skechers.com.
Recently introduced at America’s Beauty Show, this new line of podiatrist-approved sneakers from CHI Footwear provides all-day support, breathable comfort and durability. The shoes are made with graphene technology and can help provide relief for plantar fasciitis, as well as increase stability and balance. The shoes also feature signature Horus Eye embroidery, which represents protection and energy. For more information, visit www.chifootwear.com.
Dyson’s Supersonic™ hair dryer is ergonomically designed with the motor in the handle so the weight is in your hand, thus not causing a weight imbalance on your wrist. For more information, visit www.dyson.com/hair-care/professional.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.