Hairdressers: Is your job affecting your health?

Are you a hairdresser? Is your job affecting your health? Then read this article

I recently spent some time with a close friend who happens to be my hairdresser. It was only when she complained about pain in her fingers and wrists that it suddenly clicked that the tasks involved in hairdressing especially the African hairstyles, can result in musculoskeletal disorders such as RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) and back pain and injuries.  She complained she has been having them on and off for a while now and I didn’t need a psychic to tell me that her job was taking a toll on her health. Most of her tasks requires her to stand for hours on end and by the end of her shift especially on a busy day, she’s usually very tired and mostly has lower back pain. Most of her customers are Black and Black hairstyles especially braids are usually time consuming and could take between 4 to 8 hours, sometimes more even days, depending on the hairstyle. I used to braid my friends’ hair when I was at Uni and I remember dreading the whole process because of the pain I used to feel in my wrists just after a few hours.

Braiding (like the picture above) involves fast repetitive movements. These movements, standing for long hours and awkward postures such as standing on your toes to get a section right or even bending and twisting often results in Musculoskeletal disorders and Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) . 

What are musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) and RSIs all about?

MSD can be defined as injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper/lower limbs or the back.  Working in awkward positions, incorrect posture or heavy lifting/carrying is the most common cause of MSD. The work environment could also be a contributing factor. Symptoms includes stiffness or pain from joints and inability to straighten or bend those joints, aches and pains, tenderness, stiffness, weakness, tingling, numbness, cramp and swelling to muscles of the arms or the neck. 

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a kind of Musculoskeletal disorder. It is sometimes also called work-related upper limb disorder (a term used to describe the pain from muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse). RSI is caused by a combination of overuse and repetition, awkward or static posture and insufficient recovery time and affects parts of the upper body/limb, such as the forearm, elbow, wrist, hands, neck and shoulders.  The symptoms of RSI include aches, pain, stiffness, swelling, numbness, tingling, weakness and cramps. RSI is preventable and treatable – for more information, visit the NHS Choices website.

How to protect yourself from ill health and RSI as a hairdresser:

  • Where possible, use proper seating and stand less. Risk assess your work area and tasks to identify potential problems and tackle those problems.
  • Braiding is time consuming and involves lots of repetitive movements which affect your nerves and can result in RSI. If possible, braid less and fix more. This is most applicable to those who make Black hairstyles.
  • Don’t be afraid to charge for your time. This way, you are paid what you’re worth and don’t need to take on so much work and end up working long hours. Increasing your fees will probably result in you losing a few customers but your true customers who appreciate the work you do for them will stick around. Girls love to stay with their hairdressers even it means they pay a few more £s.
  • People tend to just turn up to salons hoping to get their hair done by any means possible. Have an appointment only system if you don’t already operate one. This way you  won’t be bombarded with so much work you feel you must get done.
  • Take regular breaks especially when braiding. Your customer will thank you for it as they too can have a stretch and a break from the numbing pain they feel when seated in the same position for hours.
  • Take care of your health by doing regular exercises.
  • Speak to your GP about any worries and symptoms you may have.

For more information on managing upper limbs disorder, download this HSE publication for free.

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