Developing an ergonomic and workplace injury doesn’t just have to do with heavy lifting or bad posture at a desk. Even if you’re moving around on your feet all day, you may still be at risk for developing some repetitive movement injuries. If you work in the service industry, you may feel like there’s no way to avoid certain tasks that may be contributing to daily aches and pains. We usually move without thinking—which may not be the best thing if we’re moving in a way that strains our bodies. Our bodies tend to do better with more neutral movements. Unnatural movements like constantly lifting, reaching, or holding objects on a daily basis may overexert your muscles and lead to injuries you probably didn’t even know you were developing. A lot of employees within the hospitality and service industries are at risk for sprains and strains, simply from moving the wrong way. Even quick breaks to stretch and walk around can make a huge difference. Beyond that, you can be at top level performance at work without having to worry about those constant aches in your neck, shoulders, arms, and back.
If You’re At The Front Desk
If you usually work at a workstation or behind a desk, keep to general ergonomic tips about adjusting your desk space. Keeping your body as relaxed as possible is critical for this type of environment. Unnatural positioning when using your mouse and keyboard can potentially cause carpal tunnel in your wrists. It also puts you at risk for tennis elbow, which causes the muscles and tendons around the elbow to become inflamed. Just moving your mouse and typing on your keyboard the right way makes a huge difference.
Tips For Your Mouse, Keyboard, & Computer:
• Place pressure on the palm of your hand, don’t hold mouse too tightly
• Keep mouse and keyboard at elbow height
• Type with straight wrists
• Keep your computer screen at eye level
Tips For Your Chair:
• Keep thighs horizontal with room for knees under desk
• Keep neck and shoulders relaxed
• Don’t stoop forward, keep to good posture
Taking the time to relieve neck and shoulder tension could prevent any postural misalignments that could occur in your upper spine. One way to release tension throughout your entire spine and chest area and also improve posture is to stretch backwards. Counter a long day of hunching forward and flexing your spine with a quick break.
Quick Stretch Break:
• Get to a comfortable standing position
• Keep your feet hips-width apart
• Bring your hands up over your head with palms facing forward and thumbs hooked
• Begin to bend gently backwards
• Remember to breathe deeply as you do so
After sitting for a long time, this could be a good way to extend your posture. If you have back pain related to stenosis, remember that you should avoid bending backwards altogether.
Serving Is More Strain Than You Think
A lot of service industry jobs involve being in strenuous positions for most of the day. If you think about it on an ergonomic level, there’s a lot you personally can do to minimize the amount of stress you’re putting on your muscles and joints. Our bodies move and function the best way in natural positions. Carrying trays, plates, or bottles of beverages aren’t exactly the most natural ways for your body to hold weight. Waiters and waitresses have to contend with carrying a lot of weight balanced on one arm, which has the potential for injury.
How To Hold A Tray:
• Keep your position as neutral as possible
• Keep hand firm but relaxed on bottom of tray, don’t tense your fingers
• Keep your wrists straight and upper arm vertical
• Hold the tray as close to your body as possible
• Balance the tray on both your arm and hand
• Alternate which arm you use so you don’t overuse one arm
• Carry fewer plates at a time, ask other servers to help with larger orders
Pain because of these repeat movements might be felt in the the wrists, elbows, or shoulders. This might eventually put a server at risk for developing an overuse injury such as carpal tunnel, bursitis, or tendinitis around a joint. Servers are at risk for carpal tunnel symptoms progressing to the elbows as well as the wrists because of the way they hold heavy trays. Doing some wrist stretches during breaks can help relieve built-up tension in your wrists, your elbow, and general forearm musculature.
Quick Stretch Break:
• Extend your arm forward, hold your hand straight out, palm down
• Use the opposite hand to grab the back of the hand and the fingertips
• Pull the hand towards your trunk
• To stretch other side, flip your palm over and repeat the movement
• Hold for 10 seconds on each side
Pouring & Shaking
For servers or bartenders who work with heavy jugs, coffee pots, or bottles of beverage—keep to general tips about how to hold weight.
How To Pour:
• Hold jugs, pots, or bottles close to your body when carrying them
• When pouring, move the glass or cup as close to you as possible
• Don’t overreach with a full jug
For bartenders, they also have to worry about reaching for heavy bottles of premium liquor and constantly shaking drinks filled with heavier ice (which is similar to the motion of a baseball pitch). With all that shaking, they’re at risk for tendinitis in the elbow or the shoulder. If you’re a bartender, thinking about the way you shake is critical. You need to get the maximum impact from the way you’re shaking, but don’t let it impact your body as well.
How To Shake:
• Keep your shoulders and wrists as flexible as possible
• Stretch when you can
• Focus on which muscles you’re putting the most force on
• If you feel more pressure or force in one area, direct the pressure away
• Switch hands when shaking, vary your shaking routine
A common injury bartenders are prone to is shoulder tendonitis. Doing some external shoulder rotations to strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff around the shoulder will help strengthen and stabilize your shoulder joint.
Quick Workout Break:
• Lay on your side with the knees bent and a dumbbell in the upper hand
• Start small with the weight if you’re just starting out
• Bend the elbow to a right angle
• Keep the upper arm supported on your side with the dumbbell hovering in front
• Rotate the shoulder to pull the lower arm and dumbbell up
• Pull so the they are level with the top side of your body
• Slowly return down to the starting position
Keep Moving, Stretching, and Walking
Remember to take as many breaks as you can. If you’re on your feet all day, invest in good shoes that have some arch support and aren’t too pointed at the tip. Most servers or front desk workers have to stoop forward to speak with customers all day, which puts strain on their lower back. Comfortable shoes can go a long way in helping decrease lower limb and lower back pain. Get up, move around, throw something away, go to the bathroom, take a quick walk around your office space—whatever you can do. If you’re working the front desk, make sure you take the time to relax your hands. Be mindful of which positions feel awkward or uncomfortable when going through your work day, chances are, there’s a way to correct your movement to make it more natural. That way, you can avoid the aches and pains that come along with your specific job duties.