Appointment Only until April 1, 2020

April 18, 2019


“I will be on my feet from eleven to six today – at least,” said Artisan Barber’s Sara on a sunny Saturday in April. “Will I get a break? We’ll see.”

It’s too bad that Sara will be missing out on the first warm weekend day of the year. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid 70s, and a few blocks away, Central Park is in full bloom. But what Sara won’t be missing out on is a full client load and hopefully a lucrative day. Another thing that Sara won’t be missing out on at the end of her day is a lot of aches and pains.

Actually, the pains for Sara will probably start around mid-shift on a busy day like today.  

“What hurts most for me are my heels, back, and shoulders.” Sara says. “Also, I hold my sheers funny and I’m constantly bending my wrists. So, they hurt too.” Sara continues. “You know how some people crack their necks for fingers? I have to do the same thing with my wrists, or else they get really tight.”

At first glance, Sara might be mistaken as a complainer. She’s not. Despite her work-related ailments, she’s surprisingly sunny. What ails Sara (and countless other people who spend long periods of time on their feet doing the same thing over and over all day) is commonly referred to as “repetitive stress disorder.”

“In my field we refer to work-related repetitive injuries as ‘cumulative trauma disorders,’ or CTDs,” says Kelly Burns, a western Connecticut area Occupational Therapist. As an OT, a big part of Kelly’s job is to identify, treat and problem-solve issues related to CTDs like the ones Sara experiences.

“Professions likely to be diagnosed with such trauma include painters, landscapers, builders, factory workers, secretaries, or any profession with repetitive movements associated with their craft,” Kelly explains. She uses the example of an assembly line worker who uses the same machinery to secure the same screw at the same angle for hours.

“I'm sure you can imagine how hard that is to do,” she says. “So, it's no surprise to me that barbers experience repetitive trauma also.”

It turns out that Sara’s symptoms are text book.

“Some common complaints occupational therapists manage associated with CTDs include low back pain, upper extremity pain, and fatigue,” Kelly says.

So, is this a shut up and put up situation, or is there something that Sara can do to make her days a little easier? According to Kelly, Sara has options.

“We can approach treatment with environmental modifications and an ergonomic mind-set,” Kelly says. “Simple environmental modifications for barbers that an OT might suggest could include periodic seated ‘breaks’ on a high stool to take pressure off lower extremities, adjusting customer seat height (already a great modification built in to the profession), and scheduling her day’s appointments with imposed strategic breaks as to avoid further trauma.” Kelly also recommended varying equipment as opposed to using the same buzzer every day, and maybe standing on a pressure-relieving mat.

Other suggestions from Kelly included wearing appropriate braces for Sara to support her wrists and applying heat or ice packs to decrease her pain and swelling.

Kelly also advocates “engaging in stretching exercises and strengthening accessory and antagonist muscle groups as to promote postural support in affected area.” In English she’s telling Sara that she may want to look into spending a little time at the gym.

In the next installment of this series, Artisan Barber founder Charlie McCoy tackles his own repetitive stress injuries by going to the gym with the help of Strength in Numbers coach Jamal.


Bobby McGuire

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