By Amber Hanrahan Qualified Physiotherapist, Perth Western Australia.

As you are very well aware, your hands are your biggest asset as a groomer. Wrist pain can be a real problem, not just at work but also impacting everyday tasks at home too. 

There are two main types of wrist pain that you are susceptible to when grooming; De Quervain’s tenosynovitis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Both are caused by overuse and repetitive movements, often referred to as RSI (repetitive strain injury).

I’ll explain both problems in detail, so you can look out for early signs and symptoms. I’ll share my top tips and some exercises to help reduce the risk of them happening in the first place. 

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis 

Pain on the thumb side of the wrist due to inflammation around the tendons of the thumb. It is often described as a constant ache, a pulling sensation and even a burning sensation. Tenderness and swelling is common around tendon sheath, which is a connective tissue ‘strap’ that holds the tendons down and prevents them from bowstringing. These structures may become sensitised causing pain to extend up into the forearm too. The irritation of the tendons occurs from repetitive wrist movements. Pain can be triggered by making a fist, gripping, spreading the fingers apart or with a twisting movement, like opening a jar. As a groomer, you are more susceptible to this problem with work tasks like using scissors and razors (repetition of the task and twisting positions), turning a tap on and off. Pain can also be triggered by picking up animals of varying sizes and weight, particularly when they are not cooperating! Outside of work, examples of aggravating positions include sleeping with your hands curled in and picking up children or shopping. 

If you suspect you have this tendon problem, it’s best to see a physio. Usually a splint is prescribed to help limit aggravating movements and positions. You can purchase one over-the-counter from the chemist, however they tend to be bulky and difficult to achieve a personalised fit. So instead, I suggest seeing a physio or OT who specialises in hand therapy, as they will be able to make you a custom made splint. If you are in Perth, I recommend Flex Physio. Other than splinting to offload the sensitive structures, physiotherapy may include massage, dry needling, mobilisations, taping and specific exercises.

Some things you can try for yourself: 

·       Self resisted exercises

·       massage your forearms on the inside and outside using your hand or a small firm ball i.e tennis or lacrosse ball

·       Try to sleep with your wrists flat (neutral position), as if they were in a splint. 

·       When your wrists are sore, limit lifting where possible, this includes at work but also at home too! 

Heat or Ice? 

Well it depends. Either could help for both of these problems. Inflammatory type pain is usually relieved with cool packs whereas achy muscles are usually relieved with heat therapy. You could try both, not at the same time obviously! 

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome 

A nerve related problem that occurs at the front of the wrist and travels into the palm of the hand. The median nerve is compressed as it travels through the carpal tunnel in the hand. Sometimes pain isn’t always present but other symptoms include numbness or tingling in the thumb and middle fingers. A loss in grip strength and hand coordination are other common complaints. If you notice the muscle at the base of the thumb is smaller than on your non-painful side, please discuss this with your physiotherapist. Usually it will occur in one hand only, but if it’s present in both at the same time, it’s important to discuss this with your physiotherapist or GP. This type of pain often occurs in women more than men, aged 35-60 years old. 

What can you do about it?

This problem is easy to diagnose and often responds well to treatment. If you suspect you have Carpal tunnel syndrome, the earlier you get an assessment, the better. It is best to see a physiotherapist first, or your GP, who will likely refer you to physio at some stage. Medical imaging is not essential for diagnosis. Management includes relieving symptoms through hands-on techniques (massage, mobilisations and movements) as well as exercise prescription. See the videos below for some examples. 

We will also provide you with tips to incorporate throughout your day, specifically tailored to suit your needs at work and also your lifestyle. We recommend you reduce repeated movements where possible and try to incorporate a variety of positions and movements to compensate. Let’s face it, not always possible! An ergonomic assessment of your work space is recommended to ensure you are taking care of your body. 

If left untreated, it can become persistent. Your GP may prescribe some pain medication and anti-inflammatories. As a last resort, referral to a specialist for surgical release around the nerves can be considered if conservative management has not helped. 

Now that seems like all doom and gloom right?! 

How can we prevent these problems in the first place? 

Strengthening the hand, wrist, shoulder and neck can reduce the likelihood of overuse, building your capacity above what your work demands of you. These preventative exercises are often ones that will relieve symptoms too! We call it ‘pre-habilitation’. 

Physio Exercises

Thumb isometrics (De Quervains)

  • Hold for 10-30sec x3 
  • If you have pain, stop if pain increases and apply less pressure

Elastic band 

  • As many reps until fatigue

Wrist stretches – Prayer & Reverse Prayer

  • Hold stretch for 10-20 seconds

AROM Long finger flexors (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome)

  • Repeat until symptoms change OR muscles fatigue

Dumbbell curls 

  • 8-12 reps. If you can do more than 15 reps, the weight is too light! 

Lateral Raise 

  •  8-12 reps. If you can do more than 15 reps, the weight is too light! 

Wall angels 

  • Move slowly x 6-8 reps, up to 12 in a row

If symptoms worsen or persist, see your healthcare professional.

Who am I?

I’m Lexie Goldsmith,

My slow introduction and low stress handling techniques have been proven over 14 years of grooming cats without sedation and many happy clients, being the go-to cat groomer in my state.

I am contacted regularly by people all over the world wanting to learn cat grooming from me, and this makes me excited to see students now grooming cats with my videos, instructions and support.

I am a Qualified Veterinary Nurse, Pet Stylist and Master Cat Groomer, available for your cat grooming education needs.

Come join me on your cat grooming journey, I promise you will not be disappointed, I have a 30day money back guarantee for all courses.

More information on my courses here


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