Barista Magazine

FEB-MAR 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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WHEN MY WRISTS HURT too much to even raise a mug of coffee to my lips, I knew it was bad. Wrist pain had plagued me for months, and there was no doubt in my mind it was brought on by my work as a barista. As someone who worked industry jobs for years, I wasn't new to the occasional back, shoulder, or wrist pain. Usually I kept soldiering through with little change to my body mechanics or preventive techniques, and the aches would eventually go away. Not this time. My wrist pain was sharp, constant, and getting worse day by day. My ring and pinky fi ngers tingled with a pins- and-needles sensation. Even when I wasn't working bar, the pain in my wrists was enough to keep me from cooking at home or riding my bike. Debilitating pain is scary to say the least. Not having insurance or a primary-care doctor, I fi nally went to an urgent-care clinic. Thankfully, the Washington State Depart- ment of Labor and Industries that helps insure workplace injuries covered the costs. I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and sent home with wrist braces and a treatment plan for physical therapy and massage. I followed the doctor's orders, and through therapy, massage, and a new survival kit full of techniques and stretches, I had my carpal tunnel symptoms under control. The pain and tingling went away and I avoided invasive treatments like cortisone shots or surgery. Understanding carpal tunnel syndrome and ways to relieve symptoms set me up for a long and sustainable barista career. WHAT IS CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME? Let's start with a look at the anatomy of carpal tunnel beginning with the median nerve. This nerve starts in your shoulder, runs down your arm, passes through the carpal tunnel—a band in your wrist—and ends in your hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome is when the band becomes infl amed and compresses the nerve, leading to pain, tingling, and/or weakness in the hand. I used to only associate it with people who worked at desks and typed all day, not baristas. Turns out, carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by a lot of things, some of which are not work-related at all like diabetes, thyroid disorders, and high blood pressure. Work-induced carpal tunnel syndrome, however, comes from overextension and repetitive movements of the wrist and hand. Think of factory- and assembly line work, as well as construction, cooking, and keyboarding jobs. Repetitive movements can cause swelling in the small passageway of the wrist, regardless of what the movement is and why you're doing it. "Simply put, there's no 100-percent ergonomic way to perform barista duties," says Sean Dubbs, a licensed massage therapist and former barista at Kaladi Brothers Coffee in Seattle. "The activities required to be a barista are not within normal body motions." There are a ton of variables to account for in behind- the-bar ergonomics, from the height of the counter, to the barista's constant practice of reaching and bending. For the specifi c chain of movements involved in tamping, a lot of wrist pain can be caused by not properly stacking the wrist and elbow joints. To avoid overextension of the wrist, make sure to keep your elbow and wrist aligned. STRATEGIES FOR RELIEF After being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, I discovered a host of practices and techniques for relieving my pain as well as reprogramming my barista habits to be more healthy and sustain- able. Here's what worked best: REST The best thing to do when experiencing something that causes pain is to stop doing it. "Identify movements or activities that trigger your pain and modify the activity so it doesn't hurt—or stop doing it. Take rest breaks often," says Ellery Russian, doctor of phys- ical therapy. Ellery (who uses they/them pronouns) experienced carpal tunnel syndrome while enduring long driving commutes to Even now, a few years out of my carpal tunnel recovery, if I start to experience any wrist pain, usually one or two nights of sleeping with wrist braces will do the trick and I'll be back to normal. f 84 barista magazine

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