Postural Analysis and How it Relates to Occupational Pain

Postural analysis of a hair stylist explains why they suffer body pain at higher rates than other careers. It also provides clues as to what kind of massage protocol will be most helpful clients from the salon industry.

Hairdresser on Fire” sung by Morrissey in 1989 conveys the intensity and creativity of the profession.  The strong, smooth rhythm mimics the energetic atmosphere of a busy salon. Although tongue and cheek, the lyrics touch on the artistic enthusiasm so many stylists have –  “I sense the power, within the fingers ….busy scissors, busy clippers”.

Morrissey is right:  Hair Stylists are passionate about their work.  It is that job satisfaction that keeps them working despite inevitable and sometimes crippling pain.

Here is a compilation of statistics:
71 percent suffer from body pain, with neck and shoulder aches the primary complaint. The most debilitating side effects are headaches and numbness in the hands.  Females especially complain that shoulder problems developed at work interfere with life outside of the salon.

Postural analysis of hairdresser - Shoulder pain and numbness in hands is common complaint - Spa Rosalia Del Mare

The static positions required to wash, cut, color and dry hair change a hairstylist’s posture over time.

The photo below illustrates the results of a body that has become shaped by hairstyling.  Since the woman pictured suffers from numbness in arms, headaches and shoulder tension, this article will focus on postural analysis relating directly to her complaints instead of the body in its entirety.

Postural Analysis of Hairdresser - Spa Rosalia Del Mare

The first question to ask oneself when doing postural analysis is:

“What body parts have deviated from anatomically correct positioning?”
Looking at the picture below, the left hand and neck both offer clues as to what might be causing her pain.

In examination of the hand first: The right hand palm is facing the thigh, which is how it should be. However, the left hand palm is facing the door behind her, meaning it is internally rotated.  The next clue comes from the height of her joints.  The left hand, elbow and shoulder are all lower than the right.


Postural Analysis of Hairdresser - Spa Rosalia Del Mare

So, the next question to ask is:

“What would cause a shoulder to drop and a hand to turn so far inward that it faces the rear of a body?”
The answer is the latissimus dorsi muscle.  It originates on the lower back and ends in the arm.  It is a powerful muscle and  internally rotates the arm and depresses the shoulder.  As a result of it’s distorted influence on her left side, she now has a shoulder imbalance.

What happens when a shoulder imbalance occurs?

When the shoulders are at different levels, the muscles in the neck compensate in an attempt to keep the head on top of the spine.  If they did not, the head would tilt toward whichever shoulder is lower.  So, in this case, the right side neck muscles have constricted to prevent the head falling too far to the left.

Her neck position yields more clues.  There is a slight forward head carriage.  Static extension of the arms to cut hair, and looking down on clients have encouraged the muscles in the chest and neck to shorten.

What can be done to change her posture and relieve pain?

These changes are permanent unless active steps are taken to counteract them.  The good news is that in this case, the hairdresser lives a productive, creative life – pain free.

This is what she does:

  1. In her *regular therapeutic bodywork session focus is on freeing up the tissues that become restricted from static poses.   In particular, clinical massage techniques that focus on deep tissue and fascia release is most effective.   In addition to her neck, the areas of focus are*:  arms, chest, armpits, upper shoulders and the sides of her back.
  2. She does pilates four times a week for it’s unique combination of stretching and strengthening.
  3. Lifestyle changes have supported getting more rest.
  4. During flare ups, ice packs and moist heat.
  5. Regular check ups from her medical doctor have ruled out other causes.  The importance of consulting with a physician cannot be overemphasized.

Hairstylists are not alone:

Pain & Postural Analysis of Hairdresser - Spa Rosalia Del Mare

Any activity that includes static positioning of extended front facing arms will have a similar effect. Crafting, computers, driving are common activities that can change posture with negative effects.

Hopefully, this article serves as an inspiration to make some lifestyle changes if needed.  For some more ideas for combating pain, check out our  tips section.

*regular in her case are 120 minute sessions monthly at a minimum.  She schedules more frequently when flare ups occur.
*(biceps, wrist flexors, pectoralis, subscapularis, serratus anterior, upper trapezius and of course the latissimus dorsi)