Preventing Shoulder and Upper Back Injuries for Hair Professionals

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While cutting hair can be stimulating for the mind, the profession can be rough on the body. Many hairstylists have developed an injury related to their job, often suffering from leg and back problems, as well as hand and arm stress.  You might think these aches and pains are just a part of a hard days work, but they can become chronic and cause severe issues years from now.  Some of the commonly diagnosed conditions attributed to the job include Repetitive Strain Injury, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, muscle and joint tightening and strain, and trapped nerves.

For hairstylist Jenn In upper back pain is a chronic issue. “After working as a hairstylist for close to 20 years, I have a lot of aches and pains. By far the worst physical one is in my shoulder blades, aggravated by having my arms raised in front of me for most of the day,” she says. “Every stylist I know has big knots in their upper back and shoulders, but this feels like a knot that just won’t go away.”

Sound familiar to you?  What if that pain in your upper back and shoulder blade area isn’t just a knot in the muscle, but instead a locked joint in the spine?  Many hairstylists and barbers experience locked ribs, known as a subluxation of the rib and adjacent vertebrae. In this case the rib forms an articulation within the spine that becomes stuck. Muscles can spasm and eventually fibrotic tissue will form causing this to be a chronic and/or recurring condition.  Having a rib “stuck” can also cause muscle tension around the joint, tightening in the trapezius and levator scapulae muscle across the back which in turn causes the neck muscles to tighten.

The good news is you can oftentimes correct and prevent this common hairstyling injury.  Dr. Douglas Cole, a chiropractor based in Los Angeles, has treated a number of hairstylists and barbers who suffer from rib subluxation over the course of his 20 years experience.  His number one piece of advice: strengthen the muscles that surround the ribs to stabilize.  Here are five upper back and shoulder strengthening exercises you can do anytime and anywhere:

SHOULDER PRESS (palms facing in)


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REVERSE FLYS (these hits the back of the shoulder and back to help stabilize)


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Start by doing one set of 10 repetitions of each exercise without weight, taking 30-60 seconds rest between each exercise.  Eventually, as you gain muscle strength, work up to 3-5 sets and add resistance with a set of light dumbbells (2-3 pounds).  Don’t have dumbbells? Two cans of soup are great substitutes.

Some additional simple tips to help include:

  • Keep your elbows tucked into your sides where possible.
  • Avoid hanging your neck by adjusting your client’s chair height. You can also bring yourself down by using a cutting stool which takes stress off your legs, back and core.
  • Check your body positioning in the mirror throughout the day to make sure your ears are over your shoulder.
  • Stretch your neck, arms, back and even your chest between clients. Wait, stretch your chest?! Yes. Pectoral muscles can get tight from holding your arms up in front of your body for long periods of time. Tight pectoral muscles pull your shoulders forward which can further aggravate shoulder and neck issues.  (A quick stretch for tight pecs? Stand in a doorway holding your arms up like a goal post on either side of the door jam and lightly lean forward.)
  • Breathe deeply to improve oxygen supply to the muscles.
  • Keep well hydrated.  This can help prevent the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles which can lead to soreness and tension.

Above all else, listen to your body and be kind and gentle with yourself.

Tori Matt

Influencer Marketing and Public Relations Specialist

Tori Matt is a Influencer Marketing and Public Relations professional who has specialized in the beauty industry for over a decade. She has worked with both Pro and Retail brands including Ardell Lashes, Bioelements skincare and China Glaze nail polish, blending her experience in marketing, digital and traditional PR, influencer relations, events and content production.

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