Working Healthy

Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome With Good Tools and Work Habits

Manufacturers have created everything from padded armrest to ergonomic chairs so that nail technicians can work more effectively and pain-free.

Do you have numbness and tingling in the fingertips? Do your wrists ache and feel sprained? Do you have difficulty grasping your implements? You may be suffering early warning symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), a debilitating and painful disorder generally caused by the constant, repetitive movements of the hand, wrist, and fingers that are a necessary part of so many occupations today.

Many of a nail technician’s tasks are repetitive – the back-and-forth motion of filling, the repeated patting and stroking to apply product, and the nip, nip, nip of trimming cuticles and product. To complicate matters, nail technicians are notorious for hunching over the workstation with their forearms pressed against the hard table edges while they work on clients’ nails, further straining and fatiguing arm muscles and cutting off circulation to the hand.

There are many ways to treat CTS, but prevention is still the best medicine. Know how to choose and use equipment that will make your work easier and help prevent you from developing this painful, debilitating disorder.


“Sit up straight, dear.” How many times have you heard that one before? Well, Mom was right. One of the best ways to avoid developing health problems such as CTS is keeping proper posture: Don’t slouch or hunch over the table with your arms pressed against it to support your upper body weight.

If you can’t sit up straight at your table with your arms bent at the elbow and your wrists straight (not bent at an awkward angle to work on the client), you need to re-evaluate your workstation. Most manicure workstations are 30 inches high, just about perfect for technicians who are anywhere from 5’2” to 5’6”. You can adjust the height of most chairs to make yourself more comfortable. But if you’re petite or tall and find yourself constantly adjusting to compensate, you should consider a custom built table.

When shopping for a new table, don’t forget to look for rounded edges or an armrest on the nail technician’s side of the table. A hard or sharp-edged surface is more likely to reduce blood circulation to your hands and fatigue your muscles more quickly.

An adjustable chair is a must because it lets you align yourself with the table so that your arms are bent at the elbows and rest comfortably on the table surface. Avoid chairs with armrests because they may prevent you from scooting your chair close enough to the work surface, forcing you to hunch over.


Armrests alleviate the pain that can be caused by resting the forearms on the edges of a workstation. They also help to improve posture by elevating the wrist and keeping it straight, thus reducing pressure on the meridian nerve.

Armrests come in various styles. They can be purchased and added to your current workstation, although many come as a standard or optional feature on a new table. The designs can vary: One style sits in the center of the tabletop and provides a cushioned surface for the client and technician to rest their arms, while other models attach to the edge of the table.

Some portable armrests attach to the tabletop with Velcro and can be removed to take to competitions, or anywhere else a technician may travel. An alternative to the rolled up towel, they range in price from $10 to $25.

If you’re in the market for a new table, look for one with an armrest on both sides of the table – one for you, one for the client. If you’re not ready to replace your table just yet, Gena Labs offers Tablemate, a cushioned armrest that offers arm and wrist support for the technician and client. The high-density foam grips the table surface and the flat top surface provides ample work space. For added convenience, there are slots to hold files and nail polish.

Komfort Wedge offers an armrest made of pink foam. The armrest provides support and cushioning to the arms and wrists and can be cut to fit any work surface. Komfort Wedge recommends the armrest with a fresh towel after each service for sanitation purposes.

OPI Products offers Soft Edge, a compact, rounded armrest that easily attaches to the tabletop with Velcro. Soft Edge is made of a chemically resistant material and can easily be removed for cleaning.

Manirest from Pibbs Industries is an angular arm and wrist manicuring pad that can be purchased with any Pibbs table or bought separately for your current table. Manirest is washable and easy to disinfect, says Pibbs, and can be attached to the table with or without Velcro.

Salon Interiors’ armrest is made of vinyl-covered foam for easy cleaning. The armrest can be purchased as a standard feature on many of the company’s tables or it can be bought separately.


There’s no disputing that electric files eliminate much of the repetitive back-and-forth motion of manual filing that overworks and tires your hand and arm muscles. Used with the right attachments, electric files can be used to thin, shape, and buff extensions with a minimum of physical exertion on the technician’s part. For information about electric filing systems, contact a drill manufacturer or your local distributor.


More and more implement manufacturers are introducing acrylic and cuticles nippers that feature reduced spring tension, meaning you don’t have to squeeze as hard for cutting action as you do with traditional nippers. This reduces hand fatigue. The reduced-tension nippers are ideal for technicians who are suffering from symptoms of CTS as well as for those who want to avoid developing it. Some manufacturers also are offering long handled implements, which they say spread the squeezing pressure across the palm, instead of concentrating it on one point.

For more information, talk to an implement manufacturer about implements that help reduce hand fatigue and prevent CTS.


Repetitive Motion Trauma Corporation introduces Carpal Care, a “prehabilitative” exercise program that is comprised of two adjustable resistance bands and a comprehensive booklet about CTS, self-testing procedures, and three levels of exercises designed to strengthen particular muscle groups.


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