Just wondering if anyone out there is suffering from what I call Barista's Elbow. Basically its Tennis Elbow but the only thing I can figure out is its from a combination of knocking, tamping, slapping the portafilter off the machine & then stirring drinks & pulling frozen cappuccinos out of the frozen drink machine...all done with my right hand. My elbow has started killing me over the last few months & this week its been pretty bad. Hurts to bend it or straighten it...really just hurts to move it at all! Havent seen a doctor about it (you know how this self employement health plan it....nada!) but I've got a feeling Im going to have to soon. Anyone else suffer from this? I've been doing it for a good 15 years now so I guess I could only expect some health related incident to happen!

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knock box padded at all?
In a box with a rubber ring but thats it.

Jesse -D-> said:
knock box padded at all?
Hate to hear your dilemma. I've had Barista elbow and had to have surgery- that was two years ago, since the surgery, i have felt like a million bucks, except a few pains here and there telling me to take it easy and stretch or rest my arm. the best advice i can give is to really focus on what activities you are doing when you feel the pain - sure, it feels like *everything* you do is causing the pain, but really focus on what tightens up the muscles on the side of your forearm...is it the force of knocking the puck? is it from pushing or pulling the portafilter in the group head? Are you lifting items such as airpots, etc with an extended and locked arm (if so *stop* doing that *right now*!!).
Look into deep tissue massage. While that helped me a little, my tendons were so knotted up that i had layers of scar tissue that needed to be released. folks scared the heck out of me regarding the surgery but it really ended up not being that big of a deal and i felt so much better afterwards.
Look into physical therapy. that seemed to help too.

i came across a great tool that helps with the knotting in the shoulders and back as a result of working bar- it's called the 'theracane" you can find it online for about 35-40 dollars. I still use it whenever i'm feeling tense or tight in the shoulders. it really does help.

learn to be ambidextrous. start using your other arm for knocking pucks, pulling and pushing pf's etc.

take it easy. work register or something else besides the bar for a few days if you can. take anti- inflammatory meds such as ibuprofen.

rest your arm and alternate a heat pad and ice when not at work. the ice reduces swelling and heat aids in comfort.

good luck. i've felt your pain. it's not fun.

hang in there and i'm sending Barista empathy your way.

I've been doing this for years and spent some time on some really busy bars, it's never been a problem. As far as I've been able to gather it's from improper body mechanics during the tamp. Instead of using your arm muscles to deliver the pressure during the tamp try using your arm as a piston and let your body apply the force. It's sort of hard to explain but it's helped everyone I know thats ever had the problem.
I'm not too sure about Barista's Elbow, but I know that I am suffering from Barista's Wrist. As hard as it was for me, that only way to really fix it is to change your method during operation. I know how difficult this is, but I promise you that as soon as you change you will definitely feel it in the elbow. Good luck
Looks like some good thoughts here already. I've not suffered too badly from "barista elbow" yet, though some days it does feel a little overused.

I recall a discussion on here several months ago where someone had begun using one of those lever tampers (the big freestanding kind) to help him work through a problem like you are describing. Went looking for it but couldn't find it. You might try that, in addition to everything else previously discussed.

This really does speak to the importance of making sure we all develop body-friendly work habits. We should all spend a little time when its slow or towards the end of a long day paying close attention to the little motions that we do and how we feel when we do them. Is anything painful or awkward? How tall is your tamping surface? Your espresso machine? How often are you thwacking the doser lever? How hard do you bang out the puck? There are lots of ways to adapt your work methods or environment to reduce the impact on our bodies... and we have a great resource here in the people that have spent several years doing this every day.

Good luck Mitch, I hope you find a way to improve your "barista elbow".
Barista elbow is not the result of *just* improper tamping. When i had it at its worst, we were using a swift grinder.

Don't get me wrong, improper technique is definately a contributing factor, as is the height of the counter top (which was a huge contributor to my issue) and over extending (locking) the arm when lifting items off the bar- such as airpots of coffee, for instance.

how you hold your tamper can indeed cause long term pain as well. When applying pressure with a tamper- grasp the tamper as you would a doorknob. do not bend your wrist when tamping and remember: elbow up.

also, pay attention to *how* you are pulling the doser lever when dosing coffee. Do you pull the lever towards you with your fingers or hand allowing your wrist to bend with every pull? if so, a better technique would be to use your "whole arm" when pulling the dosing lever- use your hand or fingers and move the lever straight back - in line with your elbow. only your elbow (or whole arm) should move front to back and not your wrist.
I just want to throw in a STRONG recommendation to take a complete break and let the swelling disappear before returning to the specific activities that are inflaming it. I know that this is essentially an impossible request for a working Barista, but I have regretted almost daily not doing just that over 15 years ago.

I developed problems in my wrists, forearms, and elbow way back (way way back, starting in 1989) when I was behind bar. I ultimately ended up the doctor and was told to stop all activities that contributed for two weeks and let myself recover. Choosing to prioritize my need to earn money-- dumbest choice I've ever made, including a bad marriage I swear -- I ignored my doctor. I continued to pull shots during work hours, believing I could just ice, heat, cry, etc. in off-hours. I apparently never left the swelling go down and now I can't do much of anything without inflammation.

Even longer story short: I have never recovered from the damage and still struggle nearly 20 years later with significant chronic pain. Coincidental to this discussion, I am once again in one of the worst periods in many years, so I am all too aware of my deep regrets for not caring for myself back then. Now, it is aggravated by any repetitive use and certainly by computer use-- hence the voice dictation software most people know I use. It was absolutely initially caused by barista work, though.

I'm sure this sounds dramatic; it is. I am probably a worst-case scenario, but nonetheless, I exist. Please consider a complete break temporarily until you recover and then implement care activities at the bar.
I would like to add that you can tamp (actual final motion only) without bending any joints in you arm. IF you aren't doing it this way, then why not? Even 30lbs is a lot of stress for your joints, especially when you do it a hundred or more times a day.
Jesse -D-> said:
I would like to add that you can tamp (actual final motion only) without bending any joints in you arm. IF you aren't doing it this way, then why not? Even 30lbs is a lot of stress for your joints, especially when you do it a hundred or more times a day.

Can you explain this a bit more please? I have visions of you tamping on a barstool, arm hanging straight down... that can't be it?
I'm not saying your joints aren't bent, I'm saying that they don't bend while you are applying the pressure. When I tamp, I get my self set and "locked" into place (pependicular to the counter), and all of the pressure comes from me shifting my body weight via my legs, my arm doesn't really move at all. This gets me around 70lbs of pressure, and no joint problem from tamping, now removing/replacing portafilters that is a differnt story.

hope that helps brady.
something i've also learned over the years is that the amount of pressure that we apply isnt the most important factor of tamping.

technically tamping is the simple act of applying even pressure to the bed of coffee producing a level surface. i find that it is no longer necessary (for me) to apply as much force as i used to back in the day when i would practically stand on my tip toes to apply as much force as i possibly could while tamping. that's what the grinder adjustment is for- simply adjust the grind finer.....and if we think about it- this is how some people (the Italians, is it?) can get by with using no tamper at all!

i apply a gentle force, lift, press down again quickly, polish and remove tamper.

no longer are my wrists forced with that 50 plus pounds of pressure each and every drink.

...now some people prefer to apply as much physical pressure as possible - and that's fine too, i suppose.....IF there is a logical reason for doing so.

kind of like tapping the side of the pf. are we doing these things out of habit or necessity?

in other words, are we doing these things because it's imbedded in our heads, because that's how we've always done it or does our practice truly affect the taste of the beverage that we are preparing in a positive way?

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