[Updated] What can I do to prevent my staff getting repetitive strain injury?

Therapists working in spas and beauty salons can unfortunately suffer with repetitive strain injury (RSI) – especially tension in the shoulders, back and neck area – when performing demanding massage treatments back-to-back.

These repetitive movements can also put unnecessary stress on the tendons and nerves in the hands, wrists, and arms. “Poor posture during treatment is normally to blame, as well as spending too much time in one position, but a lack of adequate breaks can also cause injury,” says Anna-Cari Gund, managing director of Raison d´Etre Spas and president of Cidesco International.

“It’s important to make sure staff take regular breaks throughout the day and use breathing exercises to help release stress and increase oxygen intake.”

Massage therapists should stretch regularly to improve circulation and increase mobility and change positions in treatment as much as possible. 

“Remind your therapists that it’s OK to move the client during massage so that they don’t have to bend over as much,” explains Gund. “Switching up the rota so staff perform different treatments throughout the day can also help.” 

Kerry Beavis, founder of The Abundant Therapist, is a fully trained Pilates teacher, and is well equipped to help when it comes to RSI. “Gund and I are going to share with you some quick stretches that can be done between every client. Just make sure your team are standing or sitting with a tall posture and feet flat on the floor when doing the below.” 

Woman with pain in her shoulder

Four daily stretches to help your beauty therapists prevent RSI from occuring:

1. Neck stretch

Step 1: “Press your chin to your chest and keep your shoulders down. Hold this position for three deep breaths,” says Beavis. 

Step 2: “Place your ear to your shoulder without moving any other part of your upper body. Hold for three deep breaths,” she adds. 

Step 3: “Turn your head to the left, keeping your shoulders facing forwards. Gently lower your chin towards the shoulder and trace the chin, following the collar bone towards the right shoulder. Then, look up to the right. Repeat from right to left. Get your team to do this as often as possible,” explains Beavis.

2. Spinal stretch

Yoga is a great stretching and breathing exercise, and a perfect start and end to the day. “One seated exercise, spinal stretch, is particularly good for therapists suffering with tension and is easy to do,” explains Gund. 

Step 1: “Sit on a chair with feet parallel and flat on the floor. Then, allow the spine to lengthen,” says Gund. 

Step 2: “Place your hands on your knees and inhale as you draw your shoulders back,” she explains. 

Step 3: “Lift your head and draw your chest forward and up, arching your back,” says Gund. “Exhale, before releasing your head down to your knees. Press your hands into your knees and round your back up towards the ceiling, drawing your abdominals in towards the spine.” 

Step 4: “Repeat the steps four or five times, then come back to a sitting position,” she adds. 

3. Hand and wrist stretch

Step 1: “Straighten your arm out in front of you, with the palm of your hand facing down. Flex at the wrist, sending your fingertips pointing towards the ceiling,” says Beavis. 

Step 2: “Use your other hand to support the palm and hold the pose for 10–30 seconds, without pulling your fingers back. Repeat on other side. This will help stretch the forearm,” she explains.  

Step 3: “Straighten your arm out as above and then flex at the wrist, sending your fingertips down to the floor. Keep your fingers together. Use the other hand to help support the stretch at the palm/back of hand,” she says. “Try and keep your extended arm as straight as possible, but do not force it.” 

4. Leg stetches

Stretch 1: quad stretch – “Stand tall and have a surface to help you balance, then bend at the right knee, sending the foot behind you,” says Beavis.

“Hold on to the foot if you can or use a rolled-up towel for support of the ankle. Bring your thighs together as much as possible and press your foot into your hand, and your hand into your foot. “Tuck under with the pelvis to feel more of a stretch at the front of your thigh. Hold for 10–30 seconds. Repeat on the other leg.”

Stretch 2: calf stretch – “Stand with your feet together and stand tall. Take a big step back with the right leg, so you are on the ball of the foot,” explains Beavis.

“Bend at the left leg, for stability, keeping your hips facing forwards. Tuck under at the pelvis and press your right heel towards the floor. Hold for 10–30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.” 

Watch our video on the best RSI and back pain prevention exercises to do daily

How do you help your therapy team overcome RSI? Tell us below.