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Preventing Pain in Stylists and Barbers

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

Common areas where hairdressers have pain and tips on how to prevent this from happening.

Over the past 20 years, our doctors have performed thousands of chiropractic adjustments on hair stylists and barbers. Because of this, we are familiar with many of the common aches and health complaints that affect members of these professions. Hair stylists and barbers spend an extended amount of time on their feet with their arms lifted and constantly moving. This causes muscle tightness and continued pressure on the joints of the skeleton.

Recurring movements of the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers makes hairdressers more susceptible to Repetitive Motion Injuries (also called Repetitive Strain Injuries or Overuse Syndromes). These types of injuries can damage nerves, tendons, muscles, and ligaments. Repetitive Motion Injuries can take considerable time to heal, making work painful for barbers and stylists.

We have found the following areas and injuries to be among the most common amongst our patients who are hair stylists and barbers:

  • Shoulder pain: The shoulder is a more shallow type of joint than the hip. The shoulder joint relies more on muscles surrounding it to stay in place unlike the hip which has a deep joint capsule. The stylist must keep their hands elevated in order to cut, curl, color, trim, shave, apply foils, and blow dry the clients hair. They have to keep their hands steady and above their heart for long periods of time. This will cause fatigue in the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. The stress in the joint is increased and will cause irritation and inflammation of the shoulder joint capsule, often resulting in shoulder pain.

  • Neck pain: Many stylists hold their neck in a forward position which causes tension on the neck muscles. They may also keep their head turned to the right or left for long periods of time. This can cause the neck muscles to become sore on one or both sides.

  • Tension headaches: Continual tightness in the muscles along the sides of the neck can cause a type of headache called a tension headache. The discomfort in the neck muscles can travel upwards into the skull, jaw, and temples. If left unchecked, this can escalate into a migraine headache.

  • Elbow stiffness: Barbers and stylists pivot, bend, rotate and swivel their elbow joints more than many other people. Most other professions do not over work the elbow joints. Stress is placed on the elbows as they style or cut hair. Hair stylists are susceptible to musculoskeletal conditions such as tennis elbow.

  • Wrist pain: Hairdressers use a variety of tools: blow dryers, blending shears, combs, curling irons, razors, brushes, clips, and trimmers. They are continually lifting and manipulating objects with their hands. This places them at risk for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and tendinitis of the wrist. It is also common for stylists to experience fatigue in their hands, especially at the end of a long shift.

  • Early arthritis in the hands and fingers: Using certain types of tools, such as scissors and shears, requires dexterity and continual pressure on the thumb and finger joints. While using scissors, a stylist can bring their thumb toward their first finger hundreds or thousands of times a day. This causes unnatural stress on the joints of the fingers and thumb. Such constant pressure on the joints of the hands can lead to the early onset of osteoarthritis.

  • Pain in the forearm (of dominant hand): This type of pain is often from repeatedly squeezing and gripping tools. Barbers and stylists typically use their dominant hand and arm when performing daily routines. Overusing one arm can cause painful inflammation in the muscles and tendons of the forearm.

  • Ache in the upper back, between the shoulder blades: This can be caused by two different situations. 1) The hairdresser has poor posture with their head and neck angled too far forward. This can also cause the shoulders to slump forward. This type of incorrect posture is harmful because it forces the body to recruit additional muscles to support the weight of the head. The muscles of the upper back become fatigued and sore. 2) Working with both arms at the same time while keeping their hands elevated high enough to work on a client’s hair. Holding this position for long periods of time causes stress on the muscles between the upper spine and the shoulder blades.

  • Low back pain: Hairdressers must stay on their feet for the entirety of their shift. This causes mild hip, pelvis, and lower back pain that can progress if the stylist doesn’t receive enough rest. If this continues each and every shift, then their low back pain can become severe. This becomes worse if the stylist works long shifts or more than five days per week.

  • Sore feet: Stylists rarely work on carpet or other soft surfaces. In order to keep the work area clean, they must stand on a smooth, hard surface that is easy to sweep and keep clean. Their feet can become sore from the constant contact of an unforgiving surface such as concrete or tile floors.

  • Foot ailments: It isn’t uncommon for stylists to experience a range of foot problems, such as: bunions, plantar fasciitis, hammer toes, corns, calluses, and ingrown toenails. This is due to the combination of unsupportive footwear and standing on a hard surface. Fashion conscious stylists may sometimes sacrifice comfort over style. This can be hazardous to their feet.

  • Negative posture changes: Working while standing for long periods of time can negatively affect a barber or stylist’s posture. Their posture is prone to harmful changes such as: shoulders rounded forward, neck tilted to one side, one hip higher than the other, and one foot sticking out to the side more than the other.

It is important for barbers and stylists to be proactive in preventing injuries and harmful changes in their posture. It is especially necessary for a hairdresser to begin taking care of their health when they are young in order to maintain their health throughout their career. Here is a list of suggestions and ideas to safeguard the health and posture of barbers and stylists:

  1. Wear supportive foot wear. Hairdressers should try on shoes before they purchase then to ensure that the shoes fit properly. Their shoes may wear out more frequently due to how many hours are spent standing during their shift. For some, the temptation may be to buy fashionable shoes. However, it is recommended to wear comfortable, supportive shoes as often as possible, and to replace worn-out footwear with new, supportive footwear.

  2. Quality anti-fatigue mat to stand on. Select high quality anti-fatigue mats to stand on throughout the day. Many brands of mats need to be replaced every 3 years. Standing on a good mat will enable the hairdresser to feel more energy at the end of the day.

  3. Hydraulic styling chair to fit the height of the stylist. An adjustable hydraulic chair will take pressure off the hairdresser’s mid and low back while they are working. The foot pedal should be comfortable for the stylist to use, because they will be using it throughout the day.

  4. Chiropractic adjustments for maintaining health. Many barbers and stylists benefit from seeing a chiropractor at least four times a year (every 3 months). The chiropractor will be able to assess their posture and make gentle corrections. Many chiropractors can also help with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, headaches, muscle stiffness, and tendinitis. It is recommended that the stylist spend at least as much time and money maintaining their health as they do maintaining their hairdressing equipment. Their equipment can be replaced, but their body cannot be replaced in the same manner.

  5. Stretching regularly. Taking five minutes at the start of their day to do some simple stretches will warm up their muscles and joints. This can prevent muscle stiffness and aches later in the day.

  6. Scheduling breaks. It’s healthy for barbers and stylists take breaks during the week as well as breaks during the year. This will give their bodies time to heal and repair. It is also important to take a break after seeing a large group of clients in a row.

  7. Avoid the sugar crash. Stay clear of foods that will spike blood sugar levels, but that will cause blood sugar levels to drop later on. This cause the stylist to feel fatigued. Once the stylist feels tired, they will more easily fall into using improper posture.

  8. Keep supplies close. It’s important for the hairdresser to keep the supplies and equipment that they regularly use close at hand. This allows them to remain standing on their comfortable anti-fatigue mat. It also reduces repetitive reaching and sorting through items.

  9. Be cautious if working over five days a week. There are times when it may be necessary for a stylist to work six or seven days a week. This is usually reserved for weddings, events, holidays, and busy times of the year. However, the human body is unable to maintain this pace for long stretches of time. Stylists that take care of their health usually have longer, fuller careers.

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