This post is for all my nail girls, beauticians, cosmetologists, hair stylists, and anyone else who uses their hands as tools for work.
As a nail artist, I have enjoyed so many unique experiences working mostly on set, at beauty events, and delivering house-calls for the past 7 years, it is safe to say that I have not just been lucky but undoubtedly spoiled with opportunity. To think of how many nails I’ve actually done in that time is unbelievable, hundreds, maybe even thousands. I was really working non-stop and loving it, the thought that I wasn’t taking proper care of my own hands hadn’t even occurred to me. I was completely taking my hands for granted, with no realization as to how important they really were to me and not just my art, but my job. I still remember the first time I felt helpless on set before putting manicuring aside for almost 2 years to embark on an on-going battle with carpal tunnel.
It was a big cover shoot for a big time magazine with 9 models, that is 90 nails and 90 toe nails by the way. That’s right, 180 total nails that had to be done in 6 hours or less. I did have an assistant so I personally took care of 5 girls, so 100 nails total for moi. Finishing up the last pedicure I felt a burning sensation in my left wrist that traveled to my palm and thumb. I did my best to clean up my kit and make it to my car before the real pain began, I had completely lost feeling in my thumb, my palm was burning, and I was officially freaking out. I sat in my car, doing my best to try and stretch my arm and apply pressure to the reflexology points I was very familiar with, but nothing helped. I was cursing and crying, begging the world to make this pain stop until finally about 30 min later I was able to at least massage my hand and calm myself enough to go drive home and begin my research.
I had JUST turned 23 and had only been doing nails professionally on set for about 3 years. How was it even possible to experience carpal tunnel so young? The answer was simple, I had not been taking care of myself. This shoot was just one of many like it, I had probably been doing at least 4-8 shoots a month for the past few years, not all paid either. I was overworking my hands, I should have been doing yoga and stretching to make sure they were healthy. Why didn’t I know this? Why hadn’t they taught me about this in beauty school? Why hadn’t I heard about it from industry magazines or other manicurists? Well, number one, it doesn’t happen to everyone and two, no one seems to care unless it affects them personally.
Now I figured out pretty quick thanks to the internet that this was indeed carpal tunnel. First I read up on statistics, causes, and symptoms. I found that carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common nerve compression disorder of the upper extremity that affects only about 1 percent of the general population and roughly 5 percent of the working population who must undergo repetitive use of their hands/wrists in daily life. The only surgical treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome is the most frequent surgery of the hand and wrist, with 463,637 carpal tunnel releases annually in the United States and a only 50-60% success rate. The thought of getting surgery freaked me out even more and I searched for holistic remedies.
So I started doing yoga and got acupuncture, I seemed to be doing better and just kept working through it. I was able to keep the pain at bay for a few months but eventually it came back, and worse than before. I was constantly wearing a wrist guard and even tried copper insulated wrist/hand support gloves whenever using my hands for work or exercise. Acupuncture only provided temporary relief for a few days and the type of yoga I was doing would often leave my hands and shoulders sore making my wrist hurt more. I even tried 7 dextrose injections in my palm, the doctor wanted to do 15 in both hands, but it was far too painful, and in the end left me with more pain and no relief. I tried cortisone injections which are often used for slip disks and other injuries, again with no relief. Another 6 months or so later, crying and feeling sorry for myself in the parking lot after a shoot had become a common occurrence.
At the time doing nail art on set was still relatively new and I was young so honestly I wasn’t being super well paid. By this I mean I was not making enough to pay rent, car insurance, gas, supplies, and be able to afford things like acupuncture and chiropractic for the long hours I would spend hunching over nails. Also, sometimes the attitudes and egos I would work with would not be worth the money or the pain I was starting to suffer from. So without making a huge fuss, I decided to take a long break.
This was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my career and at the time I really didn’t tell anyone what was going on or why I stopped because I was embarrassed. It was terrifying to leave one of the best beauty agencies in Los Angeles that had taken a chance on me only a year ago as their youngest working artist. I did not know if I would ever be able to do nails the way I wanted to again, much less continue my career and support myself financially. Nail art had once been my biggest passion and was now simply painful. So I left my job and I left Los Angeles with the intent of discovering a more realistic way to deal with this in the real world, which turned out to be Mexico.
I went to Mexico for almost a year, which is another story in itself entirely that I may visit at a later date. For now I’m going to try and get to the point. Basically in my travels I found that yoga designed for surfers and essential oils were better than acupuncture and tiger balm, at least for me. I was lucky enough to end up in a little town called Sayulita where I did yoga regularly with the absolutely fabulous yogini Carmela Carlyle. I would trade Carmela mani-pedis for yoga poses that were perfect for opening up the shoulders, which happens to be where carpal tunnel begins. She taught me so much about the body, yoga, and just life, it is often her voice that keeps me going on days when I don’t feel like doing the body work. It’s hard to care for yourself sometimes when you’re just tired of everything. I realized that I had been hating my own body, blaming it for my struggles. Carmela showed me how to find beauty in this restorative body work, she really helped me to love and nurture myself in a way I never had.
Besides the local Do Terrra collective I encountered in Mexico circa 2014, my grandmother is actually the one who turned me onto essential oils that she discovered for herself after she suffered a slip disk in her back. This woman healed her own slip disk with herbal remedies like bone broth, oregano oil, Oxygen therapy, and some other things that weren’t even cool yet in 2010. So of course when she tells me that essential oils could be helpful, I listened, learned and will share with you at the end of this story.
So in the midst of all this I finally started posting about carpal tunnel and found that I was not alone, many other makeup artists, nail stylists, and hair stylists were also suffering. Even nail techs who had been working in the field for over a decade were at a loss when it came to this battle. Most of these men and women were working through the pain with icy hot, tiger balm, ibuprofen, and heating pads nearly every day of work. I had even talked to hard working and well known artists who had buckled and succumbed to carpal tunnel surgery. One was lucky and had a successful surgery and now works without pain. However a couple of these girls have now been through multiple surgeries, the second surgery has a 30-40% success rate by the way. They are now still continuing to attempt working through worse pain than they had before.
Wanting to help my fellow beauticians and share what I had learned, I reached out to my contacts at very popular industry print and online magazine who had published many of my nail how to’s and tutorials. We were in the middle of communicating with them about my favorite salon products when I asked if they would be interested in a piece about carpal tunnel. Specifically I named a few of the popular manicurists I had talked with that had gotten the surgery, not to mention I had started posting and talking to them about this already. The response I got was not very encouraging, they mentioned looking for somewhere to “maybe” fit an article in online and that they had covered it once in the past in an online column. Obviously I thanked my contact and continued on with our business, but the topic was never revisited even though they have reached out to me since for puff pieces on nail art and how to’s. Believe me I would love nothing more than to show and talk about nail art trends all day but again, there should be more preventative information about this for not just nail techs but beauticians. Is an ever so often article inside a column online really enough?
Maybe I am outspoken, maybe I am complaining, maybe I am being a bit dramatic, but I do not believe that I only speak for myself when I say that it is not enough. Carpal tunnel can not just be recovered from, it can be prevented.
If you have made it all the way to this last paragraph, THANK YOU FOR READING!!
This is one of many posts I will author about my experience in preventing and recovering from carpal tunnel without surgery. For now I will leave you with my favorite essential oil blend from Do Terra for the pain which also comes as a handy lotion and sketches of the yoga poses specific to carpal tunnel from my fabulous yogini Carmela Carlyle.