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What to Wear So Your Joints Don't Hurt

Did you know that there are 360 joints in the human body? 

That’s 360 connections between 720 bones.

That’s also 360 places that can hurt if you spend long hours on your feet at a restaurant. 

But, while some pain is inevitable for restaurant industry workers, there are things that you can do to mitigate it.

Most Common Types of Injuries in the Restaurant Industry

The list of common work-related injuries will vary depending on what part of the restaurant you are discussing. For instance, kitchen workers are more prone to lacerations, punctures, and burns due to proximity to cooking equipment. Regardless of whether you work in the front or back of the house, you are certain to be on your feet for long hours.

And, as anyone who has ever spent time in the restaurant industry will tell you, those surfaces upon which you have to walk and stand for so long are painfully hard. One of the most common complaints that industry workers have while toiling under such conditions is joint pain.

Causes of Joint Pain

Long hours on hard surfaces cause three types of injuries that often result in joint pain: slips/trips/falls, strains/sprains, and ergonomic injuries.

Slips, Trips, and Falls
These three related types of injuries account for nearly 25% of all on-the-job injuries in the American workforce. There are several subcategories, but “same-level” injuries are the most common for restaurant workers. These arise from encountering wet areas, grease spills, recently cleaned floors, etc. while walking.

While the results of slips, trips, and falls can be as severe as death, the vast majority of these accidents cause a range of non-life-threatening injuries, such as joint pain. Common areas of the body in which restaurant workers experience joint pain from these types of injuries include knees, lower back, ankles, and shoulders.

Strains and Sprains
While these two injuries are often confused, they are separate problems. A strain is more commonly referred to as a “pulled muscle.” This injury occurs when a muscle anywhere in the body is overstretched or torn. Common causes are overexertion, overextension, and fatigue.

A sprain, on the other hand, refers to a ligament that is stretched beyond its capability. Sudden movements – such as those slips, trips, and falls mentioned above – are the prime cause of this injury. The most common locations for these injuries to occur are the shoulder, hamstring, lower back, and neck.

Ergonomic Injuries
“Ergonomic injuries” is just a fancy term for problems caused by repetitive movements. This type of injury can affect any part of the musculoskeletal system, including joints. Carrying trays can cause joint pain in your wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Lifting and moving heavy items, such as tables, water jugs, buffet warmers, and the like, can hurt your entire body. Your lower back is particularly vulnerable, though.

For chefs, line cooks, bartenders and servers the pivot motion can be a nasty cause of repetitive strain injuries. It’s almost impossible to avoid a pivoting motion when working in a restaurant, and your knees will suffer from the constant twisting motion of your legs, and the direction changes that you perform repeatedly.

In addition to wearing proper footwear that provides support, hospitality employees can be more cognizant of their body motions and adjust their on-the-job movements to reduce joint stress. Anti-fatigue mats are used to soften the blow of standing for extended periods of time. These mats are often placed behind the bar, in front of the line, and in any other spaces where staff will be on their feet doing prep work.

Your Fashion Decisions Matter

Now that we have firmly established that restaurant work is tough on the joints, let’s discuss what you can do about it. While not all injuries occur in your feet, prevention starts there.

Choose the Correct Footwear
Wearing appropriate footwear is probably the closest thing to a cure-all for work-related joint pain. Because your feet support your entire body and play a significant role in controlling your posture, they affect every part of you. They also suffer greatly from this type of work. But what does “correct footwear” mean? It means a few things, actually.

For one, shoes need to be non-slip. That’s an obvious way to avoid the slips, trips, and falls we discussed above. The best non-slip shoes will have a soft rubber outsole and an interlocking thread pattern that covers a sufficiently large surface of the sole. Then, there is comfort. Many restaurant employees work 6-hour shifts, or double shifts of two 4-5 hour shifts a day. Managers and owners may work even longer shifts, and could spend as many as 12-14 hours a day on the floor. Since most, if not all, of that time is spent on their feet, they need to have comfortable shoes.

Make sure that the shoes’ toe box is sufficiently wide. You should have enough space to wiggle your toes, but not so much that the ball of your foot is sliding around inside the shoe. If your foot slides around too much, you’ll end up with blisters. Arch support is another integral part of shoe comfort. Anti-compression insoles will support your arch throughout the day. Make sure to choose an appropriate insole for your type of arch. Flat-footed people have very different needs than those with high-arches.

Why Selecting Correct Footwear Isn’t as Easy as It Sounds
Unfortunately, there are two problems with this solution. One problem is fashion, and the other is availability. Fashion is a problem because no one wants to look bad at work. Plus, many restaurant jobs have role-specific uniforms that convey an important message of professionalism to customers.
And the vast majority of shoes made to the above specifications are unflattering. The situation gets even worse if you work in a high-end restaurant where you have to dress in fancy clothes. Almost all of the non-slip, arch supportive shoes on the market are too casual for those environments.

One solution to this problem is to invest in a pair of high quality shoes from a brand like Skechers, Dansko, Birkenstock or Crocs. These brands have developed shoes specifically for industries where people are on their feet all day and their footwear provides stability, support and safety, and are generally somewhat fashionable too. While branded shoes may be expensive, they pay for themselves by looking after your feet. You can consider them as Personal Protective Equipment, and they’ll save you a lot of discomfort.

Restaurant work is tough even on the fittest of bodies. No matter how careful you are, you are sure to eventually develop joint pain if you work in this field. Your footwear’s effect on your occupational health really can be quite impressive but can also be seriously underrated.

While finding fashionable, comfortable footwear that is also available in your area and at your price point can be a challenge; it’s something that you need to prioritize. Otherwise, you are in for a world of hurt that takes much longer to heal than it does to acquire the injury. So, be proactive and protect your joints with the right footwear for your job.

Your joints will thank you for it!

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