Groomer’s Guide
Protect and Preserve Your Hands by Preventing Arthritis
by Jennifer Bishop Jenkins
You’ve probably heard older groomers express regret that they did not do more when they were young to take care of their hands. You may have seen some of us with swollen joints and bent fingers, or others wearing compression gloves, splints or other mechanical aids, and even some with surgical scars.

As groomers, we make our living with our hands. They are our most important tools and our most precious asset. Now that I am well into my 60s, after 45 years of part- and full-time grooming, the pain in my arthritic hands is pretty much constant throughout the day and night. I have a specialized hand doctor, general weakness in both hands, have had multiple surgeries and injections, use braces or compression aids, get regular massages, and must employ other strategies that are a constant, and expensive, part of my life now.

pen sketch drawing of open hands with wrist connected
Luckily, there is a lot of good information out there to guide the many millions of us who rely on our hands for our livelihoods. And everyone in the grooming industry can relate to this issue. If you are younger, your focus must be on prevention. For those of us already dealing with it, our focus is on treatment and protecting what we have left. I invite all younger groomers to connect with some older groomers and ask questions. Start a conversation between generations and let’s really talk about taking care of our hands and our bodies. Shop owners and supervisors especially have a moral and legal duty to keep their workforce able and healthy, and should always be attentive to worker safety and wellbeing, both short and long term.
The Mayo Clinic tells us that arthritis is, “the swelling and tenderness of one or more joints. The main symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and stiffness, which typically worsen with age. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis causes cartilage—the hard, slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones where they form a joint—to break down. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the immune system attacks the joints, beginning with the lining of joints.”1

Since rheumatoid arthritis can be inherited, is more serious and medically caused, it is not usually linked to work-related stress or injury. Osteoarthritis is what groomers commonly struggle with as they age. Osteoarthritis is caused by physical activity, stress, repetition, working conditions and other matters over which we have more control, such as our diet.

In a recent poll of those over 50 in the United States, over 60% reported having arthritis that limits their activities, 30% reported being diagnosed with osteoarthritis from wear and tear on their joints, and 70% reported being in pain from it.2 Osteoarthritis is described as a degenerative joint disease by other medical experts and is more likely to occur as a person gets older.

Dr. Wayne McCormick, a geriatrician at the University Of Washington School Of Medicine says, “It’s basically just worn-out joints. Osteoarthritis is most commonly seen among people over 50, particularly women.”3

There are many factors that contribute to arthritis, including injury and stress. My earliest arthritis developed in my right hand where fingers had been broken when I was 25 years old while showing a dog. I was in a cast and the broken fingers healed, but by the time I reached my late 40s, I started having symptoms in those fingers including pain, swelling, bone spurs and twisted joints.
sketch drawing of a healthy joint, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis
The New York Times reported, “About 12 percent of osteoarthritis cases are a result of joint injuries, such as meniscus or ligament tears, from when they were young. Arthritis is also more common among people who have a family history of the condition, or who have certain chronic conditions such as obesity, heart disease or diabetes.”3

Cleveland Clinic tells us, “There are hereditary forms of osteoarthritis that are caused by mutations in genes for collagen. This type of osteoarthritis can first appear at a young age, quickly causing severe damage, though not very common. Around 40 to 65% of osteoarthritis has a genetic component, with a stronger link for hand and hip cases. The influence of other factors, such as obesity, joint injuries, aging and joint anatomy, also is quite substantial.”4

Bone spurs are another aspect of osteoarthritis that many of us now experience, which one article describes as, “… when [cartilage] starts to break down, the bones of the finger joints become irritated and inflamed due to increased friction. When this occurs, the body creates new bone as it tries to repair itself, resulting in an overgrowth of bone (bone spur) in the joint spaces of the fingers … Bone spurs may also occur when the body tries to heal itself after an injury or due to repetitive overuse … Activities that cause repetitive joint use and stress in the hands can cause cartilage between the joints of the fingers to break down, causing damage that leads to bone spurs.”5

Hand surgery can sometimes be required if the bone spurs break away inside the fingers and need to be removed. Care for bone spurs includes rest, immobilization with splints, ice, physical therapy with a hand specialist, over the counter NSAIDs and corticosteroid injections directly into the joints, which is something else I have benefitted from.

There are many reasons that we should care about living a healthier lifestyle. Not smoking, drinking heavily or using recreational drugs, in addition to keeping a healthy weight, getting enough sleep, regular exercise and eating a healthy diet all contribute to a longer, happier, more functional and healthier life.
The Arthritis Foundation blog tells us that these same practices will also reduce the risk of developing debilitating arthritis. They also list these additional healthy practices as helping with arthritis:6
  • Avoid eating processed foods.
  • Don’t dwell on your pain, but do track it each day, perhaps recording with a number to indicate the level of discomfort.
  • Do not wear uncomfortable or poor-quality shoes.
  • Pace yourself and take breaks.
  • Get your family and friends involved with your arthritis awareness.
Having groomed regularly for decades and worked with hundreds of groomers, I have seen tons of bad shoes, consuming too much unhealthy processed foods and sodas, working without taking breaks, working too long a day and working too many days in a month. Also, groomers often are not willing to turn down dogs they probably should not attempt to groom.
Ideally, we all would learn the importance of taking care of our health when we are younger, but we tend to act as if we are immortal. I am only one of a legion of older groomers I know who regret that we did not pay attention to the problem until it was too late to prevent it. I never thought about the importance of protecting my hands until the surgeries and arthritis had already begun. The sad fact is, I could have continued working much longer and much more profitably if I had taken better care of myself.

In a Psychology Today article that asks why young people seem to feel immortal, Dr. Gary Wenk explains that it takes well into our 20s and 30s for our brains to fully develop and enable us to anticipate the consequences of our actions. He says, “When your frontal lobes finally complete their process of myelination, they begin to work properly, and you stop doing dangerous things. Most importantly, you stop feeling immortal.”7

Sadly, by the time many of us pet groomers are in our later 20s and 30s, we have already established patterns and habits, including how we groom, that are not good for our bodies in the long term.

The list of grooming behaviors, processes, and tools that hurt our hands and contribute to painful arthritis as we age is long, but here are a few examples:
PROBLEM: Scissors that don’t fit your hands, that pull your thumbs into contorted positions and hold them there, that don’t cut easily or open and shut smoothly, or that move easily into various positions.
SOLUTION: Invest in good shears that work best with your hands and have been professionally fitted. The return on your investment in quality shears fitted to your individual hands and styled for specific jobs you do is a no-brainer in terms of value.
PROBLEM: Holding the front legs of a dog that is resisting you clipping their toenails. Most dogs can and will pull back hard on your hands as you try to work on their front feet. While back-leg toenail clipping is not usually as much of an issue for your hands, it can be with some dogs.
SOLUTION: Take just a minute and have another person hold the dog with their hand locked behind the dog’s elbow above the foot on which you are clipping the nails, pushing the elbow forward. This prevents the dog from pulling that foot backwards with all its strength.
PROBLEM: Brushing out a matted dog or one with a heavy coat. Also, any hand-brushing or combing where you are pressing hard or tugging with your hands, gripping, pulling or pushing brushes and combs through heavier coat.
SOLUTION: Pre-soak dogs’ coats in conditioners before bathing, then during the bath use a high velocity dryer to loosen the hair or fur. Also use mat splitters to slice and loosen clumps and other accessories that help you more easily hold the combs and blow-dryers. Don’t rely on muscling through heavy coat with hand strength alone.
PROBLEM: Holding a tight-grip position or awkward stance for a long period of time, such as when holding a dryer or leaning over.
SOLUTION: Relax your hands, change positions regularly and use your larger joints (like your elbow or shoulder) when possible to do certain jobs instead of your fingers.
PROBLEM: Repetitive motions such as scissoring for long periods of time or holding vibrating clippers.
SOLUTION: Vary your grooming tasks and avoid long stretches of repetitive motions. Use lighter-weight clippers, attachment combs or other tools to skim off some of the bulk of the hair that is being cut to reduce the amount of finish-work scissoring needed. Wear protective braces, compression wraps, splints or other supports that have been fitted for you by an orthopedist.
For people like me who have arthritis already, stretching and keeping the joints moving is important. I have been to many doctors and physical therapists, I listen to their advice, and I take it. One of my favorite personal therapies, besides professional massage, is warmth from a hot wax hand therapy unit. A microbubble bath can also help penetrate inside the skin to deliver warmth to arthritic joints. In addition, there are many resources online that will walk you through exercises that will help your hands in both preventing arthritis and treating it.

Food choices can also help. One source outlines the follow six foods/food groups as being the most beneficial in reducing joint pain and inflammation:8

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage scribbled sketch
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage, which contain sulforaphane, have been shown to reduce inflammation, not only affecting arthritis but also preventing other ailments as well.
salmon and mackerel scribbled sketch
Eating fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna, mackerel and trout, or taking a high-quality omega-3 supplement can aid in preserving cartilage and fighting inflammation.
Turmeric scribbled sketch
Turmeric contains curcumin and is well-documented to have anti-inflammatory benefits. Turmeric is best absorbed when mixed with black pepper and many over-the-counter versions of that combination are available.
Garlic, onion, and shallot scribbled sketch
Garlic is a member of the genus Allium, which also includes onions, leeks and shallots. All contain a compound called diallyl disulfide that can help limit cartilage-damaging enzymes.
cherries scribbled sketch
Tart cherries have also been shown in multiple studies to have many benefits, especially in supplements available in concentrate or extract.
strawberry, kiwi, and bell pepper scribbled sketch
Finally, vitamin C is essential to our long-term health and is not only proven to benefit cartilage production, but also linked to many benefits such as cancer and osteoarthritis prevention. Vitamin C is abundant in citrus fruit, strawberries, bell peppers, parsley, broccoli, kiwi, cantaloupe and Kakadu plums—the world’s richest source.

The sooner we start thinking about the span of our lives that lies ahead of us and realize that what we do to our bodies now will have significant consequences in our most productive and important years, our 40s and beyond, the longer and more productive our careers—and lives—will be.

  1. Arthritis. Mayo Clinic.
  2. Arthritis and Joint Pain. (2022, Sept). University of Michigan.
  3. Is Arthritis Avoidable? (2023). New York Times.
  4. Is Arthritis Hereditary? (2019, June). Cleveland Clinic.
  5. What Causes Bone Spurs in the Hand? (2023, Sept). Very Well Health.
  6. 5 Bad Habits to Drop for Better Arthritis Management. (2021, Jan). Arthritis Today Magazine.
  7. Why Do Teenagers Feel Immortal? (2010, Aug). Psychology Today.
  8. 6 Foods That May Help Your Arthritis. (2023, April). Arthritis Foundation.