The barista wrist is a few coffees away if you’ve been tamping hard lately. We don’t want to scare you but the injury is as serious as a carpal tunnel and we don’t want you to be risking your wrist in any case, because the absence of a barista for 366 days will make the world a sadder place!
Jobs that require repetitive or physically demanding tasks can put a lot of stress on your body, leading to a range of injuries. For example, awkward hand movements can cause strain in your wrists and hands, leading to conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, hand and wrist injuries.
The injuries range from relatively minor to very severe, with open wounds as the most common ones, followed by superficial wounds.
We’ve listed a few tips from a Barista expert who has worked in the industry for 20 years and is a current trainer at our Nationally Accredited Barista Training Institute In Adelaide.
What Is A Barista Wrist?
Similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, barista wrist is a repetitive stress injury that causes pain, stiffness, throbbing, cramping, weakening, and numbness in the extremities. Taking pain killers or drinking coffee cherry tea for health benefits are temporary solutions, but the permenant solution is fixing your posture.
The most frequent type of work-related injury is hand and wrist damage, according to the Australian Safety and Compensation Council. Each year, they cause roughly 8,400 hospital admissions, or nearly one-third of all workplace injuries, and 3.3% of those are specifically related to the café, hotel, and restaurant sectors (“Work-Related Hand and Wrist Injuries in Australia”).
Nearly half of all body stressing disorders arose from muscular stress while lifting, carrying or putting down objects, with injuries to the hand, fingers and thumb the most common that led to serious claims.
How Do Barista Wrist Injuries Occur?
Barista wrist injuries are caused by the repetitive motions involved in tamping and packing coffee grounds. Over time, this can lead to inflammation and pain in your wrists.
To prevent this type of injury, it’s important to use proper form while tamping and packing coffee grounds. Additionally, you may want to consider investing in a wrist support or brace to provide additional support while working.
More commonly, barista work tends to cross over into other actions and activities such as lifting, and tray or plate carrying like other physically demanding jobs. If done regularly, it can also lead to elbow and wrist pain as a result of excessive weight and non-neutral carrying positions. Coffee flight tastings could give Baristas a break from their routines as they will be involved in a little social interaction as opposed to lifting and making coffee.
Open wounds are the most frequent type of injury, followed by superficial wounds, burns, crushes, sprains, and fractures. Injuries can range in severity from mild to severe.
Stats Related To The Barista Wrist Injuries
- Over 84,000 restaurant claims submitted between 2013 and 2017 that resulted in loss payments were examined by AmTrust Financial Services, a US-based workers’ compensation insurance, for their first-ever Restaurant Risk Report
- They discovered that, with 45% more time lost than other sectors, cafes are the restaurant industry’s most risky places to work
- 59 Canadian Baristas were surveyed and underwent biochemical analysis that recorded peak low back loads and shoulder movements. 73% of these baristas reported to have experienced lower back pain as a consequence of their job
- 68% percent of respondents said they had shoulder aches, and half of them attributed this pain to their jobs
- Standing was found to be the second most frequently reported action of baristas to cause pain, behind lifting, with 79.7% of respondents reporting foot pain
- Additionally, other baristas claimed that their jobs caused them to experience knee, wrist, elbow, neck, and upper back pain (Cadwalader)
Other Bodily Stresses Resulting From Barista Work Involve:
Shoulder pain is a common issue for baristas. The repetitive motions involved in making coffee, such as reaching for milk jugs, can put a lot of stress on your shoulders. One of the best ways to prevent this pain is to make sure that you are using proper form while working.
This means keeping your shoulders relaxed and avoiding any excessive force while performing tasks. Additionally, you may want to consider doing shoulder exercises to strengthen the muscles and reduce the likelihood of injury (Crisp).
Repetitive Strain Injury
Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a type of injury that occurs when you perform repetitive tasks over an extended period of time. This can lead to inflammation and pain in the affected area. Baristas are particularly at risk for RSI due to the repetitive nature of their work.
To prevent RSI, it’s important to take breaks throughout the day to give your body a chance to rest. Additionally, you may want to consider incorporating stretches and exercises into your daily routine to help prevent injury (Biggers).
Shoulder Injury Flared By Overuse
Sometimes, a shoulder injury that was previously dormant can flare up due to overuse. This can happen if you are working with a pre-existing injury or if you are using excessive force while performing tasks.
If you have a pre-existing shoulder injury, it’s important to take extra care while working to prevent further damage. Additionally, you may want to consider speaking with a physical therapist or doctor for guidance on how to safely work with your injury (“Bursitis in Shoulder: What It Is, Treatments, Symptoms”).
Using excessive force while performing tasks can put a lot of stress on your body and lead to injury over time. It’s important to use proper form and avoid any unnecessary force while working as a barista. This may mean adjusting the way you perform certain tasks or using tools that are designed to reduce the amount of force required.
Improving Barista Posture – Do’s and Don’ts
“Barista safety is a topic that isn’t discussed enough. The issue doesn’t make it to the mainstream curriculum as a result. The focus is on getting the flavour right or tamping it correctly but no one stresses on the importance of posture.” According to Peter, our Barista Expert Trainer.
You can’t risk losing an employee for 366 days, because that will cost your business” says Peter, the Barista trainer at our institute.
Peter provides 7 tips to Baristas that are on their toes:
- When Tamping and Emptying Portafilters, Take Movement Into Account:
Many baristas are aware of how physically taxing their jobs are, particularly when emptying and tamping portafilters. Too much pressure might hurt the shoulders, while tamping should be carried out using the abdominal muscles, not the shoulders. Baristas should have a straight, neutral wrist, and the elbow should be at a 90-degree angle. The tamper’s handle should lie on the palm’s fatty pad just below the thumb.
- Appropriate Workplace Design:
Spaces that are improperly built can cause accidents. Use equipment with push-pull steaming systems, cool touch steam wands, and smooth locking portafilters to lessen the pressure on the barista’s shoulders, arms, and back as well as the risk of burn injuries.
- Maintaining Supplies and Milk At Arm’s Reach:
Maintaining drink cups, straws, serviettes, lids, and everything else at the proper height can prevent baristas from repeatedly bending down, which puts strain on their shoulders and backs.
Baristas won’t have to stoop down, for instance, to get milk jugs from the refrigerator 42 times a day. For milk storage near espresso machines, some coffee businesses have moved to sandwich-prep style refrigerators (within the countertop).
- Rotate The Workforce:
Rotate the jobs among the baristas so that no one person is in charge of the register, producing espresso, preparing various drinks, etc. Additionally, lifting and washing shouldn’t be done all at once because doing so can put a strain on the shoulders from reaching and lifting with an extended arm.
- Put Down Thick Rubber Floor Mats:
Anti-fatigue, thick rubber floor mats provide leg and back support while baristas spend hours standing. They also provide traction for wet areas. Support under the feet can help prevent slides while also maintaining better posture, which lessens pain and damage to the shoulders.
- Stay Away From Frequent Coffee Shop Dangers:
Baristas may trip and catch themselves with an arm, dislocating the shoulder or fracturing the wrist. Wet floors, scorching hot water, and heavy lifting can all harm shoulders since slips, trips, and falls are the most common workplace mishap. It is advisable to keep floors dry and learn to lift the right way.
- Have The Baristas You Employ Wear Suitable Footwear:
Protecting your barista’s feet and posture with appropriate, comfy slip-resistant shoes is one of the most crucial safety elements. Baristas are on their feet all day, so their shoes need to be durable and safe for them to wear home. To prevent injuries from head to toe (and even shoulder), the proper safety features and padding are crucial.
What Are The Common Health Issues That baristas Face?
According to a Safe Work Australia analysis that examined illnesses and injuries between 2010–11 and 2012–13, body stressing was the primary cause of major workplace claims.
Muscular strain from lifting, carrying, or setting down objects was the cause of nearly half of all body-stressing ailments, with hand, finger, and thumb injuries being the most frequent causes of significant claims. Around 7,000 significant body-stressing claims are reported annually by Safe Work Australia.
What Are The Barista Wrist Symptoms?
Some of the potential wrist symptoms that baristas may experience include:
- Pain or tenderness in the wrist joint
- Swelling or inflammation around the wrist
- Stiffness or decreased range of motion in the wrist
- Numbness or tingling in the fingers or hand
- Weakness in the grip or difficulty holding objects
- A clicking or popping sensation in the wrist when moving it
- Loss of grip strength
These symptoms may be indicative of a range of conditions, including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, or wrist sprains, among others.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to consult a medical professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Posture Correction For Baristas
How To Treat A Barista Wrist
As we’ve mentioned earlier, the Barista wrist could cost you a year of recovery which makes precaution important. A day in the life of a Barista involves excessive moving, lifting, squatting, pouring and heavy lifting in some cases, which can cause lower back, spinal, neck shoulder and wrist injuries.
Wrist injuries are the most common and deadly injuries that you can encounter while on the job. Here are 6 essential exercises that will help you bid farewell to initial signs of wrist pain:
- Do A Wrist Stretch
To begin with, get on your hands and knees, making sure your wrists are directly underneath your shoulders and your knees are directly underneath your hips. Then, gently lean your body weight forward so that your wrists are flexed and you feel a stretch in your forearms.
Hold the stretch for a few seconds, and then release. Repeat the stretch several times, making sure not to overdo it and cause any pain or discomfort. This is a great exercise for anyone who uses their hands and wrists a lot during the day, such as those who work at a computer or perform manual labour.
- Wrist Stretch In A Praying Position
Start off by placing your hands in front of your chest in the pose of prayer. Make sure there are no armrests in the way of your elbows, whether you are standing or sitting.
- In the praying position, your hands should be together with your fingers pointed upward
- Slowly and gently bring your hands to roughly waist level. You ought to experience a light stretch
- Maintain for 20 to 30 seconds
- Let go and do it again if necessary
- Flex Your Wrist
Body Position: While sitting in a chair, position your arm so that your wrist is just at the edge of the desk and your hand is just off the edge.
You can opt to grip a tiny dumbbell (a water bottle will work if you don’t have one).
- To start, hold the weight or bottle with the palm of your hand facing upward
- Slowly raise and bring your wrist towards you
- After pausing, carefully bring your hand back to the beginning
- Repeat 2-3 sets per side, 10 times in total
- Rotate Your Wrists In Circular Motions
Moving is always beneficial. It promotes healthy circulation, which transports all those beneficial nutrients and cells to the injured area to aid in healing and protecting you from future wrist injuries. Wrist circles are a quick exercise you may perform anywhere at any time that rotates the wrist.
Let’s talk about a simple exercise you can do to keep your wrists flexible and healthy! This exercise can be done while sitting or standing as long as you have enough space to move your arms in front of you.
- To begin, hold your wrists out in front of you
- Then, gently make circles with your wrists, starting in one direction and then switching to the other
- Try to do at least 10 circles each way, and aim to do this exercise 2-3 times a day
- This exercise can help reduce stiffness and increase the range of motion in your wrists
- Wrist Extension Exercises
If you’re new to exercising a particular muscle, it’s important to proceed gradually and begin with the basic movement until you feel comfortable and confident with the exercise.
Start by assuming a seated position and placing your arm on your desk such that your hand is just outside of the edge.
- Begin by placing your palm downward
- Hold a water bottle or weight in your hand
- Raise your hand slowly and gently towards your direction
- Pause, then lower gradually
- Repeat 2-3 sets per side, 10 times total
- Thumb Touching Exercises
Coffee shops require you to use your arms and even your finger muscles. Your wrists house all of the tendons that control your hands and fingers. You can release tension from these tendons and from specific areas of the wrists by doing thumb touches.
You can do this either seated or standing, with your arms completely free.
- Gently press your index finger against your thumb.
- Next, connect your thumb and middle finger.
- Next, join your thumb and ring finger.
- Finally, join your thumb and pinky finger.
- Repeat this roughly five times for each hand.
Working as a barista can be a physically demanding job, but there are steps you can take to prevent injury. By using proper form, taking breaks throughout the day, and incorporating stretches and exercises into your routine, you can reduce your risk of injury and stay healthy on the job. If you do experience pain or discomfort, it’s important to speak with a doctor or physical therapist for guidance on how to safely manage your symptoms. Stay safe and healthy
- Biggers, Alana. “Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI): Causes, Prevention, and More.” Healthline, 9 Mar 2017.
- “Bursitis in Shoulder: What It Is, Treatments, Symptoms.” Cleveland Clinic.
- Cadwalader, Zac. “Barista Wrist Leads All Restaurant-Related Injuries in Time Lost.” Jan 2019.
- Crisp, Regan. “What You Need to Know about Common Café Injuries.” Fresh Cup Magazine, 4 May 2022.
- “Work-Related Hand and Wrist Injuries in Australia.” Australian Safety and Compensation Council, July 2008, pp. 9–30.