Yesterday I spent the day helping my sister after she had carpal tunnel surgery. Although you might not think her line of work — she’s a police officer — would involve the kind of repetitive motion that often causes carpal tunnel syndrome, the years have taken their toll. And while the procedure was fairly quick and simple, full recovery will take six weeks, and then she will have to permanently alter the way she does certain tasks. With surgery, her doctor has assured her the pain and numbness that have been her constant companion are now gone. But I have to wonder about so many nail technicians whose work involves so much repetitive motion and thus a high incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome, not to mention other work-related injuries. I’ve heard plenty of success stories from nail techs who had the surgery or simply made the necessary shifts in their work habits for their safety and have long and productive careers. It’s worth talking about the real danger of carpal tunnel.

Our bodies weren’t designed to sit in a chair filing someone’s nails back and forth all day. Obviously our physical design has a more practical survival purpose. But there are things we can do to prevent this potentially career-ending condition.

First and foremost, be observant of your body. If your hand goes numb during filing or a specific portion of a nail service, something is amiss and needs to be fixed. Many nail technicians simply have bad habits that need to be broken. Maybe you sit with legs crossed or you pull a client’s hands rather than let her bring them to you. There’s an old joke about a guy who tells his doctor, “Doctor, it hurts when I move my hand like this.” To which the doctor replies, “Don’t move your hand like that.” If there’s something you’re doing that consistently makes your hand hurt or go numb, stop doing it.

Using wrist guards while you work and sleep may be unattractive but they keep you honest. That is, they make sure your hands don’t fall into a position that will ultimately cause carpal tunnel. Use an armrest at your table and have clients rest their hands on one. That way you’re not holding the hand up to work on it. And while we’re on the subject of equipment, check your chair and table. Maintaining proper height is critical to preventing backache and injury.

Take frequent breaks. I know that’s like telling you to take frequent vacations, but carpal tunnel is something that creeps up over time. Frequently stopping and simply moving your hands, squeezing a stress ball, or stretching will help stave off injury.

As for my sister, she gets paid while she’s convalescing and she has good medical insurance. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with many nail technicians. Your daily client load is your lifeblood. You simply cannot afford to let bad habits slip into job injuries.

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