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Hairdresser’s wrist: Cut & Dry

Hairdresser’s wrist: Cut & Dry

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I wasn’t happy. I turned up to my appointment, only to find Jen’s right wrist in a splint. My favourite hairdresser was not going to work on my short sides, back and top that day.

She didn’t know that I was a rheumatologist (rheumatology? What’s that?). I had to reveal my “secret” identity to get the splint off to examine her. After all, I had a vested interest in this wrist.

Many popular terms are used to describe musculoskeletal problems associated with particular occupations. Think writer's cramp. Consider tennis elbow, housemaid's knee, gamekeeper's thumb, Nintendonitis and Twitter’s Thumbs (I might have made the last one up).

For hairdressers, there are obvious, very repetitive actions. Holding up heavy hairdryers and twirling/twisting movements of the wrists while using a hairbrush, can’t be good for the wrist. The awkward posture of the wrist while using scissors cannot be comfortable.

Jen had developed DeQuervain’s tenosynovitis.

This is due to inflammation of the two major tendons of the thumb (abductor pollicis longus and the extensor pollicis brevis tendons), and more specifically, the tendon sheath that encloses these tendons. Typically, there is swelling, tenderness and pain near the base of the thumb. Gripping, pinching, grasping and other movements of the thumb and wrist can make the pain worse.

Her GP had very appropriately prescribed rest and some anti-inflammatory medication. A hand physiotherapist created a splint for her. The most important part in treatment of De Quervain's tenosynovitis is the avoidance of aggravating injury. This is unfortunately difficult in her profession.

The ergonomics of hairdressing are poor. I don’t know what level of ergonomic assessment and risk reduction is taking place in the industry but I suspect it’s poor.

What about your occupation? Are there activities that you may need to modify to prevent an overuse injury?

Dr Irwin Lim is a rheumatologist and a director of BJC Health. BJC Health provides coordinated, comprehensive, and colocated multidisciplinary care to achieve effective solutions for patients. We call this model of care, Connected Care. Our clinics are located in Parramatta, Chatswood and Brookvale. Contact us.

This blog focuses on musculoskeletal disease, healthcare in general, and our Connected Care philosophy. Read More.

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