Lift, lower, bath, wrestle, brush, scissor, repeat. Yes, I love my job as a dog groomer but because it can be physically demanding with lots of lifting and repetitive movement, this type of work has a high incident of injuries. Many groomers don’t have health care coverage and cannot afford to take time off work. Injuries can be frustrating, painful, and in some cases, career ending. To have a long and pain-free career we need to be pro-active.
Physical therapy is exercise that is used to help fix injuries and the same type of exercise can be used to prevent injuries from occurring. I am a fifty-one year old dog groomer and single mom. I am also a Pilates pro trainer and medical exercise specialist. By the age of thirty I couldn’t lift my arms over my head because of poor ergonomics, poor conditioning, and improper form at the grooming table. This is when I started my journey of Pilates and joint conditioning. I believe it saved my career and my mission now is to help educate other pet groomers.
Proper lifting techniques are essential (Fig 1). Most groomers lift using spinal movement, which is the first mistake. Our legs are stronger than our arms or backs, let them do the work for you. To prevent a painful back it is important to keep our spine in neutral position. This means if you stood with a stick behind your back; your head, shoulders and bottom would press against the stick. This is important in all aspects of grooming from lifting to bathing.
One of the most common mistakes groomers make is using their backs as a hinge. The hips are the hinge (Fig 2). When we lean forward, the hip is where movement should occur. If we round our spine, we lose at least a quarter of our spinal strength. Remember, bend forward from the hips, keep the spine neutral, and let the legs do the lifting. Push with the legs, DO NOT pull with the back.
Five Movements to Prevent Back Pain for Pet Groomers.
We start the program lying on our backs with the knees bent. Next, slide the feet as close to the hands as possible. Then slide the hands towards the feet which helps alleviate shoulder tension. The most important part of this exercise is to squeeze your bottom, then lift your hips. Energy should be focused into the toes. Hold for a five count. Repeat 5x.
Double Leg Lift:
Roll to your side. Connect the balls of the feet and the heels together.
Inhale to lengthen, exhale to lift, being aware of relaxing the neck and shoulders as you hold for a five count. As you are holding this exercise, think of making yourself as long as possible from the top of the head to the tip of the toes and keeping the inner thighs connected like you are holding a paper between them. This exercise stabilizes the sides of our abdominal wall, which is the area between the bottom rib and the top of our hip bone. This is a vulnerable area in most groomers since we often lift with one arm when we are carrying small animals or equipment. Repeat 5x.
Imagine you have an invisible wall behind your back. Bend your knees so that your head, bottom, and heels are against the invisible wall. Next, imagine your heels are glued together. Really concentrate on squeezing your bottom as you open your knees. Repeat 10x.
Next, roll onto your belly then turn your palms down like you are slapping the floor. Start by sliding your hands towards your feet to get the tension out of the neck and shoulders. Inhale to lengthen the spine as you unweight your head from the floor. Keep the back of the neck long as you lift, making sure you are looking at the floor the whole time and not the wall in front of you. When we groom a dog everything is in front and in the center. That type of movement encourages bad posture. If you have a hard time holding your head against the stick when it is behind your back, this exercise is imperative for you and should be repeated every day. Repeat 5x.
Push up onto your hands and knees. Hands are directly under the shoulders and knees directly under the hips. Now imagine someone is going give you a push. This will help you wake up or engage your core. Extend one leg. Think about placing energy in your bottom as you lift the extended leg. Stay as stable as possible as you unweight the opposite hand and extend it overhead. Try to create as much length as you can from the tip of your fingers to the end of your toes. Hold for a count of five. Repeat, alternating sides, two times each side.
Roll to the other side and repeat Double Leg Lift 5x.
Repeat Clams on the other side 5x.
This program only takes ten minutes and should be performed at least three times per week. It can be done anywhere and no special equipment is needed. Every groomer I know has cussed at a client for bringing their dogs to us matted and expecting a miracle. Why didn’t they take ten minutes a day to brush this pet if they didn’t want it shaved down? How dare they expect us to turn this horribly matted creature into a work of art? That is the same as us showing up at the doctor and expecting him to fix us. We need to take responsibility. It is our body and our career. Getting back to work shouldn’t be a pain with this simple and easy to follow program.
Vera Needham is a Medical Exercise Specialist and Pilates Pro Trainer at the Port Stanley Fitness Centre in Canada. Vera has been a professional dog groomer for over thirty years. Who better than a groomer to know first-hand the injuries and vulnerabilities of the profession? Vera created the program after a grooming related shoulder injury which she felt may end her career. With Groomfit she has continued grooming and has been pain free for over twenty years. Groomfit is a simple, easy to follow twenty minute exercise program that is designed to address and help prevent the most common injuries which may occur with pet groomers. This DVD is accompanied by the Barber Stick. The Barber Stick was designed by herself and partner Larry Macdonald to enhance the program and help stabilize shoulders and wrists. The DVD can be purchased at www.tubee-fit.com or email [email protected] for more information.