Treating and Avoiding Stylist Carpal Tunnel Pain

by Lauren Salapatek | January 28, 2015
Hand and wrist pain can shorten your beauty career and, when severe enough, require surgery. (photo credit: Getty Images) Getty Images
Hand and wrist pain can shorten your beauty career and, when severe enough, require surgery. (photo credit: Getty Images)Getty Images

In MODERN SALON’s 2014 Healthy Hairdresser survey, 15 percent of salon professionals who responded indicated they were dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome, while 35 percent of respondents worried that they might have this issue in the future. Hand and wrist pain can shorten your beauty career and, when severe enough, require surgery.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is the compression of the median nerve at the wrist, which might result in numbness, tingling, weakness, or muscle atrophy in the hand and fingers. Although occupationally it’s most associated with computer work, CTS threatens all professions that require repetitive work with the hands, including musicians, food service managers, artists in all genres and even drivers. Aging is one of the risk factors, and women are three times more likely than men to suffer from CTS. For some women, symptoms flare up during pregnancy and menopause.

CTS and repetitive motion injuries can also cause serious pain and problems all the way up the arms, shoulders and neck.

To treat CTS, a doctor might start out prescribing anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Diuretic pills to reduce swelling, lidocaine injections and prednisone might be tried to relieve pressure on the nerve. Some studies indicate that vitamin B6 supplements also might relieve symptoms, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). A physical therapist might be brought in to teach the patient targeted exercises.

Among alternative therapies, yoga alone has been shown to diminish symptoms. “Acupuncture and chiropractic care have benefited some patients, but their effectiveness remains unproved,” NINDS states. “An exception is yoga, which has been shown to reduce pain and improve grip strength among patients with carpal tunnel syndrome.”

Although you frequently see people wearing a wrist splint or brace, this is not recommended as a longterm strategy. The brace can stabilize the wrist and reduce pain and pressure on the median nerve, especially if you wear it while sleeping, but wearing it also can strain the tendons in the hand. You might be able to wear a splint for a short period of time and then gradually exercise your hand and wrist back to health and strength.

A chronic condition lasting more than six months tends to require surgery, which involves severing the band of tissue around the wrist to reduce pressure on the median nerve. Pain is usually relieved immediately, although full recovery can take months. Surgical patients might need physical therapy to return full wrist strength. Although it’s possible that, as a hairdresser, you might not have every motion restored, this surgery is usually successful.


Body Position: Pause & Practice

Hundreds of stylists took the January Healthy Hairdresser Challenge and committed to career-sustaining goals in body, spirit and business. The February challenge is all about body positioning, or how stylists use the upper and lower body when cutting hair as well as how one moves around the guest’s head.

Knowing how to use the correct hand and body positions not only puts stylists in the best place to execute techniques properly and create shape more accurately, but will also help minimize or prevent stress on the body and promote a longer career. This concept is supported by Learn Aveda, a new cut-and-style curriculum centered on intention and wellness, and demonstrated in pause-and-practice videos that draw upon the holistic teachings of Ayurveda, yoga and meditation.

The goal is to give stylists the ability to visualize a cut from beginning to end and to demonstrate how to consistently work with confidence and purpose through precise body positioning, fluidity of movement and being “present.”

Watch the Learn Aveda Teaser video below for more information!

Visit for a complimentary 7-day trial of the Learn Aveda curriculum.


Avoiding Carpal Tunnel Pain

“There is no cure for a musculoskeletal injury, only body maintenance,” says Kate Montgomery, author of End Your Carpal Tunnel Pain Without Surgery. So before you sustain an injury, get into some good habits to prevent hand and wrist pain:

• Consider using ergonomically designed scissors and tools, and always try out your scissors and tools before purchasing to make sure they feel comfortable in your hand. “Someone once told me that using crane-handle scissors would prevent carpal tunnel problems,” says Rowena Yeager, owner of Studio Wish Salon in Twinsburg, Ohio. “I’ve always done that, and so far I haven’t had a problem.”

Train your non-dominant hand to carry some of the weight. You’ll be surprised how much you can do when you get used to switching hands.

Take breaks. This is hard for hairdressers, but your hands need a rest sometime during a long day.

Maintain a healthful diet. “I put ginger and turmeric in my smoothie or in water,” notes Kathy Cresci, 42, a stylist at Intrigue in Marietta, Georgia. “They’re both antiinflammatory agents and help to fight carpal tunnel problems.”

• See a massage therapist regularly to give you an extra hand stretch, and consider visiting an osteopath or chiropractor monthly to ensure structural alignment.

• Concentrate on proper body positioning to protect your hands, wrists and more. See the Healthy Hairdresser Challenge on facing page for more info.


Hand Help. Try this stretch:

1. Place fingers on the edge of a table.
2. Gently push down, stretching the muscles of fingers.
3. Drop elbows and push again so that this time you are stretching the wrist muscles.
4. Repeat three times and hold for 3-4 seconds each.
5. Return hands to normal position, and then place thumb on the edge of the table.
6. Gently push down, and roll your thumb to the side to stretch the muscles of
each side.

*Source: Adapted from a variety of exercise resources available online, including
As always, seek advice from your physician or therapist.


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