Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can ruin your health and your career, but not if you take preventive action now.
Most of us don’t take very good care of ourselves. We work long hours massaging clients’ hands and feet, and filing, sculpturing, and polishing nails without scheduling periodic breaks.
We perform the same repetitive motions day after day, squeezing our fingers around nail files and other implements, twisting our bodies into awkward positions, ignoring the periodic tingling, numbing sensations in our hands and wrists that warn us to slow down and change our work habits.
“I had problems with my hands for about five years,” says Estelina, a former nail technician and owner of Estelina’s Slipaway, a pedicure product company in Westlake Village, Calif. “But I ignored the numbness and pain and kept working because I had to earn a living. I pushed and pushed until the pain was so bad, I could no longer work as a manicurist.”
When Estelina finally visited her doctor, she learned she had developed carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a common health hazard afflicting nail technicians that is caused by a pinching or compression of the median nerve within the wrist. “I had heard of CTS,” Estelina says, “but I thought it was something that happened to other people — not me.”
Estelina fits the common profile of a manicurist doomed to develop CTS. For almost 13 years, she worked 10 hours a day or more, six and seven days a week, with clients scheduled every half-hour. “I always worked very fast,” Estelina admits, “and I tended to squeeze my clients’ hands to keep them steady. That’s probably why I had to have surgery on my left hand, even though I’m right-handed.”
Surgery was the only solution for Estelina after years of overuse, abuse, and neglect of her hands’ condition. Her hands became so weak she could no longer massage clients’ hands or grip her nail implements. Constant pain woke her up at night and persisted, despite the anti-inflammatory drugs, supportive wrist brace, and other treatments her doctor prescribed. “After surgery I could have started working again as a manicurist,” she says, “but one of the reasons I created my own pedicure product company was that it didn’t require the same repetitive motions. Occasionally I do nails or punch keys on the computer, but I don’t have to use my hands all the time. Now I think that maybe, if I had taken more frequent breaks ... if I’d tried to work slower instead of overdoing it ... if I hadn’t sat the wrong way, twisted my hands when I worked, or ignored what was happening to me, I could have done something to prevent CTS.”
No one knows exactly why one nail technician falls victim to CTS while another doesn’t, but experts do agree that just as preventive measures such as low-fat, healthier diets can reduce die risk of heart disease, preventive measures can be taken to help reduce the risk of CTS
Analyze Your Work Area
Try this experiment.
Sit down at your workstation and pretend you’re working on a client. If you’re not at work, visualize yourself at your station servicing a client. Is your chair really comfortable? Are your feet flat on the floor? Is your back straight and well-supported? Or are you hunched over? Your legs crossed or bent?
What about your workstation? Is it the right height for you? Or are your legs squeezed underneath? Do you have to sit sidesaddle to be comfortable? Are your arms straining, stretching your ligaments as if they we’re tally? Are your forearms banging against the table?
What about the rest of your work area? Is it situated properly so that you’re able to hold your client’s hands loosely and keep your wrists in a neutral position when filing? Or do the physical constraints of your workstation forces you to lean over and twist your body like a Cumby doll?
Do you have adequate lighting that’s positioned correctly? Or do you find yourself pulling or reaching in order to see better?
If you’re like many busy nail technicians you’ll find that a truthful analysis of your physical work area will reveal some of the sources of your physical problems. You’ll discover that you do lean forward unnecessarily, bend your neck forward like a swan, or sit with your legs to the side or folded beneath you.