Of the 40% of nail techs that report work-related health concerns, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is the most common problem, at a whopping 42%, according to NAILS’ 2012-2013 Big Book. Caused by pressure on the hand’s median nerve (which connects through the wrist with all of the fingers except for the pinkie), it can be a result of repetitive motion. Addressed early, there are at-home prevention and management techniques, though in certain cases, surgery may be needed.
Tingling or numbness in your fingers and/or palms is a classic symptom of the median nerve being squished. A weaker grip, poor coordination, or lowered dexterity may also be present, as may pain or swelling of the hands. Symptoms are frequently worse at night. In advanced stages, the impaired nerves and tendons can cause the fingers to contract to the point of resembling claws.
For nail techs, the repetitive hand motions involved in performing services is typically blamed. Any repetitive motion, especially when the wrists are flexed, can cause the protective membranes around the wrist tendon to thicken. As they thicken, they place pressure on the carpal tunnel. Since the carpal tunnel is made up of bones and ligaments and can’t stretch, it can’t increase in size with respect to the swelling of the tendons. That causes the median nerve, which passes through the carpal tunnel, to be compressed.
Some techs find relief in wearing a wrist brace at night (when wrists tend to flex more) or even during the day. You can also try alternating cold (to reduce swelling) and hot (to promote circulation) compresses, applying each for five minutes to your wrists. If there’s a massage therapist at your salon, ask her if you can trade out your services for hers, as some CTS sufferers report relief with regular massages. Also, we know it’s easier said than done, but taking breaks between clients, switching up your client order so the same type of service isn’t requested back to back, and lowering your number of working hours may allow you to work many more years without any CTS symptoms.
Anti-inflammatory medications such as steroids may be taken orally or injected directly as prescribed by a doctor. Surgery, which involves cutting the ligament over the wrist’s carpal tunnel to relieve pressure, is another option, but generally involves you taking a break from doing nail services for about three weeks afterward.
This article is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
Photography by Kimberly Pham