Expert Opinion: Osteoarthritis, which is the wearing down of the cartilage or cushion between two bones (the joint), is the most common of the more than 100 types of arthritis, and most commonly results in swelling of the joints, stiffness, pain, and sometimes redness. Risk factors for osteoarthritis include heredity, female gender, obesity, and injuries. Repetitive motion — such as filing and other tasks common to nail techs — may also make one more susceptible.
“Inflammation and pain may be reduced by NSAIDS, such as Ibuprofen and many others, but arthritis is not curable,” says John Knight, M.D., managing partner/medical producer at The Hand and Wrist Institute of Beverly Hills in Los Angeles. “In smaller joints such as the tips of the fingers and toes, frequently surgery is not required. But if the arthritis occurs in a major load-bearing joint and progresses, usually a joint replacement is needed. Cortisone injections may buy some time before surgery; Hyaluronic acid also is an injection for the knee that lubricates and coats the joint surface.” According to Knight, there is currently new research being done on the treatment of osteoarthritis, including injecting or grafting new cartilage cells into an arthritic joint.
Knight emphasizes that it’s important to receive x-rays and a correct diagnosis from a physician. “Arthritis is usually pain in a joint,” he explains “But if there is pain throughout the hand or associated with other symptoms such as numbness or tingling, then it may be carpal tunnel syndrome, which is more curable.”
Tips for dealing with osteoarthritis:
> Make certain to use the most ergonomically correct tools and equipment.
> Take frequent breaks and stretch as much as comfort allows.
> Massage can help to increase joint flexibility and relieve soreness. There are products on the market created especially to increase circulation and ease arthritis pain. Many people swear by Arnica massage oil, which can be purchased online or in natural health stores.
> Indulge in paraffin dips for your own hands. According to the Institute for Integrative Healthcare Studies, arthritis pain can be eased by the increased circulation provided by warm paraffin dips. In a 2006 Cochrane Review, researchers measured the range of motion, pinch function, grip strength, stiffness, and pain levels of patients undergoing four weeks of paraffin therapy and found that patients experienced significant improvement in these areas.
Over the past two years my lower back has been giving me warning signs. I just assumed the aching and hurting was the result of 18 years of long hours spent doing nails, getting older, and not stretching and exercising, but my doctor diagnosed me with osteoarthritis, as well as stenosis/degenerative discs in L4, L5, and S1. At this point, I could barely walk a few feet from my bed to the bathroom. I was out of work five weeks with excruciating pain. In seeking treatment for discomfort, I had tried everything — ice and heat, chiropractic, acupuncture, medication, massage. This past June, I consulted a specialist and scheduled a procedure called a caudal block, where I received transforaminal injections into the discs near the nerve. The spinal injections relieved a lot of pain, and I am feeling better and back to work. Due to the osteoarthritis, I will have to continue anti-inflammatory meds to alleviate swelling and stiffness. My best advice is to listen to your body; it will tell you when it needs rest.
Sheera Gersh, Addicted to Nails, Tempe, Ariz.
I don’t think doing nails caused my osteoarthritis (in my case, I think it’s genetic), but the sitting, filing, and bending forward has most definitely had a negative effect. I hand-filed for the first few years I did nails but I realized that I would never be able to keep it up, so I switched to an electric file. I always use thumb braces when I file, which helps a lot, but I will probably end up having surgery on one or both of my thumbs, as it is getting harder to clip nails and to do massages. It is really important to make sure your station is set up in such a way that you don’t have to bend over too much. I see a chiropractor monthly and have a massage when I can, but probably the most important thing is scheduling enough time between clients to be able to get up and walk around, even if it is only for a few minutes. I know we all want (and need) to make as much money as we can, but those few minutes of walking or stretching between clients makes a huge difference in how we feel at the end of the day. I have started an exercise program which definitely makes me feel better — there are lots of core exercises and stretches for your hands and wrists that help a lot.
Kathy Dent, Salon Glow, Reno, Nev.
Suggested Reading: Arthritis: What Exercises Work, By Dave Sobel and Arthur C. Klein
Many doctors prescribe exercise as the first line of treatment for arthritis. This book presents the right type of exercises for your kind of arthritis, pain level, age, and occupation. Backed by the latest research, these exercises can help restore you to a healthy, pain-free, and vigorous life without drugs, surgery, or any other treatment.
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