What is: Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is compressed. The median nerve runs from the forearm, through the wrist, and into the hand. The nerve provides sensation to the thumb and three finger (not the pinkie). The nerve runs through the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway, located at the base of the hand. Tendons also runs through the carpal tunnel. The tendons can swell in response to the repetitive motion of filing, applying, and buffing. When this happens, the nerves becomes a compressed. At first techs experience tingling, itching, or numbness, but symptoms will worsen quickly if left untreated. Secondary side effects of a compressed median nerve will be reduced strength in the hand, which could cause a tech to have difficulty gripping objects or rolling her hand into a fist. Eventually the pain radiates up the arm and caused continual pain – both in and out of work.
How to prevent it: one way to combat carpal tunnel is to add a wrist rest to your nail station. Another is to consult a chiropractor for hand and wrist adjustments. Tech should also do all they can to reduce the strain in the hands. Be sure to use a gentle hold on client’s hands. Train clients to relax their hands during a nail service so you aren’t stressing the tendons as you wrestle for control. If you perform frequent hand or foot massages, roll your hand into a fist to apply pressure instead of pressing with the thumb. Laura Anderson, a certified yoga instructor in Weatherford, Texas, offers a few exercise for the wrist and finger: curl your hand into a fist and roll your wrist four or five time. Open your fist and gently pull each finger downward to stretch. Take breaks during the day to help reduce swelling in the tendons that run through the carpal tunnel.
How to treat it: if you suspect you have a carpal tunnel syndrome, consult a doctor immediately. Advance carpal tunnel syndrome causes permanent damage, so it’s important to get an early diagnosis. There are number to treatments your doctor may prescribe: an anti-inflammatory, a wrist brace, physical therapy, you may need carpal tunnel surgery. The surgery is done under local anesthesia and has a very high success rate. The doctor makes a small incision at the base of the hand to expose the carpal ligament. The ligament is then cut, which provides more space in the carpal tunnel for the median nerve to run through unobstructed. The incision is closed and the patient is sent home. Recovery time varies, but expect to be out of work for the better part of a month.
What it is: Filed fingers occur when a tech files and buffs her own fingers while she’s performing service on clients. The result in her thumb and index finger having bright red marks that break open if she continues to file and buff without protecting her own skin. Techs with severe cases will file their middle finger, and eventually their ring finger, as they try to find way to shape a client’s nail without breaking open their own skin.
How to prevent it: the best way to prevent filed fingers is to wrap them completely in a bandage. You’ll need to change the wrapping between every client, not only for sanitation, but also because the tape becomes frayed and looks unsightly. An excellent choice of materials is a product put out by 3M called Coban. Coban is a self-adhesive elastic wrap that sticks to itself but not your skin. It’s available online or at the pharmacy. Coban is also available by prescription, which helps defray costs if you have prescription coverage on your insurance.
How to treat it: If your fingers are already damaged. You can treat them without taking time off of work. Wrap your fingers in Coban on a similar product during the day and treat your damaged skin with an ointment such as aloe or tea tree oil when you are not at work. During the weekend your fingers should show noticeable improvement, and vacations offer multiple days in a row for the body to heal. Be sure to wrap your fingers when you return to work.
What it is: Eye strain is simply the over-use of the eye muscle. It’s caused from keeping eyes in one position and focusing on something for too long. Eye strain doesn’t always look the same: to some people it will cause an ache in the eyes, for some it will produce dry, itchy eyes, and to other eye strain will result in watery eyes. Most people experience a dull headache and fatigue as well.
How to prevent it: You can prevent eye strain during the workday in a number of ways. First, train yourself to look up occasionally throughout every appointment. Look out into the distance to let your eyes relax. Move your eyes up and down and from side to side. When a client get up to wash her hands or choose a polish, allow your eyes to close for a few moments.
How to treat it: Eye strain is a temporary problem that should disappear after you’re given your eyes sufficient rest. However, it’s important to treat eye strain during the day so your body isn’t suffering from secondary symptoms such as headaches and fatigue. If you find that your headache persists, or that you begin to experience blurred vision, consult an eye doctor. You may need reading glasses due to presbyopia – a condition that comes with age where the eye loses elasticity and is unable to focus on object that are close.
Editor’s Note: NAILS’ May 2006 article on presbyopia , titled “I can See Clearly Now,” can be found HERE.
Aches and Pain
What it is: Shoulder pain, neck pain, upper back pain, lower back pain, hip pain, etc. it affects each of us differently depending on our age, posture, body type, weigh, and any number of other factors. But one thing’s certain: Nail techs will undoubtedly experience body aches and pains due to the bending, stretching, twisting, and turning that is required by our job.
How to prevent it: Proper posture is your first line of defense. Bring the clients’ hands to you – don’t lean forward in the seat. Don’t cross your legs while you’re working. Keep your feet on the ground, and your lower mid-back against the back of the chair for support. These simple changes offer huge benefits. Another defense against body pain is to incorporate an exercise routine that strengthens the muscles you use all day. Begin now – before you experience pain to avoid long-term problems in the future. Strengthen your abdominal muscles, which helps reduce back pain. Stretch your muscle; yoga moves are very effective for this, as are simple stretches such as dropping your shoulders and moving your head side to side. Finally, get out and walk.
How to treat it: The treatment is similar to the prevention. Stretch and strengthen your muscles, and exercise. Acute pain does need to be your badge of success. You can take steps to protect your body. Take care of yourself. You can’t afford not to. Find a reputable chiropractor. Schedule a weekly massage. Dr. Lauren Brady, a chiropractor in Endicott, N.Y., says, “A job demands a certain posture, you turn your back into a ‘C’ ”Because of this, techs must do all they can to minimize the pain before it becomes so chronic that it puts them out of work.
Editor’s Note: Posture tips can be found in NAILS’ November 2006 article, “Straight Talk.” Yoga-inspired exercise can be found in the June 2006 article, “The Om of Doing Nails.”
What it is: An allergic is simply your body’s response to a foreign object. Allergies from nail products are often identified by irritated skin around the nails. Left untreated, allergic reaction will worsen each time you come into contact with the allergen. Techs may even develop an allergic reaction that causes respiratory irritations or asthma. Because we work with known allergens, it’s important for a nail techs to do all they can to protect themselves from developing an allergic reaction.
How to prevent it: The best way to prevent developing an allergy is to minimize exposure to irritants and allergens. Do this by following some simple rules – but you must first respect the strength of the products you use.
- Never touch the product to the skin – yours or your clients’
- Cover trash cans and empty them daily
- Be sure the product is cured properly.
- Don’t work too wet.
- Pour into the dappen dish only the amount of liquid you will need for that application.
“The more you are exposed to product that I known to cause allergic reactions, the more likely you are to get an intense reaction,” says Dr. Joseph Newmark, a dermatologist in Johnson City, N.Y. Be diligent about protecting yourself.
How to treat it: once you’ve developed an allergy to a product, there is no way to get rid of the allergy, say Newmark. You must stop exposing yourself to the product that is causing the reaction. But don’t think that necessarily means the end of your career. Try a few tricks that have worked for other techs. First, try wearing nitride gloves while you work – latex gloves don’t provide an effective barrier against monomer. Second, switch product. Cindy Wentzel, owner of Nails at the Carriage House in Newmanstown, Pa., found that changing to gels from acrylic and to a protein bonder from a acid primer, along with using nitrile gloves, has allowed her to continue in her profession.
Editor’s Note: Read more about this topic in NAILS’ November 2005 article on allergic reactions titled “When Your Body Betrays You."