Most of you baristas know what it's like to pull hundreds of shots a shift - it's tiring. Lately I've been feeling some numbness in my right (tamp) hand and have tried various ways to correction my posture and movement while dosing and tamping.

Is anyone familiar with carpal tunnel caused by barista-work? Know anyone who has/had it?
What does it take to get carpal tunnel?
Any advice on 'good' repetitive movements that will prevent carpal tunnel?

Thanks all!

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shorter shifts on the bar, no bending the wrist during tamping- keep a straight line from the elbow to the wrist as if you were opening a door, and reverse motion stretching. At one time a doctor recommended to a friend of mine to sleep with a wrist brace on because it keeps your wrist straight allowing bloodflow and repair to occur more rapidly. Just wear it loos ely. That helped her a ton within a week or so she had less pain.
Sadly, in my experience, stretching exercises are best for preventing carpal tunnel. What to do when it starts flaring up? Well, the best advice I can give you (as someone who worked 8-12 hour days on bar for over 2 years) is to get off bar! Seriously, if you want to save yourself a lot of pain and possibly an operation, then spend less time on bar. Spend no more than 15 on bar and then do something else for no less than 15 minutes if not an hour. I know, it sucks, but otherwise it will get worse.

Ditto what Sarah said, especially the wrist brace. Make sure you buy one where your wrist is completely supported. Also, acupuncture is great at relieving symptoms, though may not actually "make it go away." If you have the funds, it might be worth it.
Along with all these recommendations, I'd recommend finding a good chiropractor, (not just the basic spine adjustment variety, but one who can work out the kinks of limbs as well) along with keeping the the body in proper alignment,they can work on your arm and break up the tension that forms from that repetitive motion we all do every day .I've found that once every two months or so has helped me out quite a bit.

It's kind of like a regularly scheduled "preventive maintenance on your machine."
That sounds like an overall good idea [to see a chiropractor]. The stress alone of standing 8+ hours affects my entire body, not least my wrist and forearm. Seeing a chiropractor could probably ease much of the pain.

Chris/Dale said:
Along with all these recommendations, I'd recommend finding a good chiropractor, (not just the basic spine adjustment variety, but one who can work out the kinks of limbs as well) along with keeping the the body in proper alignment,they can work on your arm and break up the tension that forms from that repetitive motion we all do every day
Get off bar!
I didn't learn to tamp proporly when i first started making coffee and now i cannot use my right arm any more for tamping at all, sometimes i can't even lift milk cause my wrist hurts too much when i do. I started making coffee with my left, doing everything the best way possible to prevent my left from getting damaged.
Something else that helped me was massage. I know it is expensive, but if you go to a school that teaches it you can get it for super cheap and it can help with your carpels. What it is a compression on a nerve, so massage can be very helpful in relieving the compression. Massage helps stretch and strengthen, and there are exercises that you can do to also have that effect:
http://physicaltherapy.about.com/od/flexibilityexercises/a/CTSexerc...
good luck, and take care of it before it gets worse and you can barely grip a pencil let alone make coffee.
Wonder if this discussion is still viewed...Get off bar is good advice, but I work in a small shop where I'm alone much of the time. I would like some tips on proper tamping techniques (especially for a single shot portafilter that lies crooked on a tamping mat...all we have). I'm also very short (and wear platform boots), and our counters are just high enough that it makes it difficult for me to "get over" the tamper and straighten my wrist. I've also thought of wearing a wrist brace at work, but we wash dishes by hand, so my hands/wrists are constantly getting wet.
Well, this one caught my attention.  What may seem like carpel tunnel could instead be a problem in your shoulder where the median nerve goes through the shoulder girdle to the hand.  Get a chair massage on your neck, shoulders and upper back.  If the wrist and hand gets better its may be more in the shoulder.  If numbness sets in, immediate attention is important.  See your doctor.  If you go too long, it can cause nerve damage that when you are over 30 can be a crap shoot as to whether it will hea.

Samara, a couple of ideas...

 

One is to flip your grip on the portafilter while tamping and change your tamp angle. It's hard to describe, but I'll try... The directions below assume tamper in your right hand and portafilter in your left. It also assumes a 2-part tamp - a light pack, then a 30-40lb final pack.

 

Set your double portafilter down on your tamp mat and do your light initial pack in the customary way. Now, instead of gripping like you normally would (hand on top of handle, thumb toward basket), grab it upside down with palm under the handle grip and thumb away from the basket. Now tilt the portafilter grip up 45ish degrees, leaving the spouts on the mat, until the bowl-y part of the portafilter contacts the mat. At this point, your spouts are still on the mat too - you have 3 points of contact. If you were to crouch down, the grip part of the portafilter handle would be around the 10:00 or 11:00 position, as would your left thumb if you were to stick it out. You can now more comfortably apply your 30-40lb final pack.

 

What this allows you to do is drop your right elbow while still keeping good wrist alignment. It also requires less motion from your right shoulder. Also useful for shorter people or taller bars.

 

I've described it using a double spouted portafilter, because that seems more intuitive to me. It would also work well with a single portafilter.

 

There are a couple of other ideas:

 

Instead of tamping with the spout on the mat, like you usually see with doubles, move your tamp mat to the front edge of the counter and tamp with the spout hanging off the edge. You'll rest the bowl-y part of the portafilter on the edge. This is also good for shorter baristas, and the only way to get any support with a single.

 

Find something of a more appropriate height to use as your tamping surface. What about getting a tall barstool? Do you have an under counter fridge you could pull out a couple of inches?

 

Hope that helps! Good luck.

 

PS, thanks for digging this thread out. Some at our bar are struggling a bit with this right now and there were some tips from PP that I'd forgot.

 

Samara Hobbes said:

Wonder if this discussion is still viewed...Get off bar is good advice, but I work in a small shop where I'm alone much of the time. I would like some tips on proper tamping techniques (especially for a single shot portafilter that lies crooked on a tamping mat...all we have). I'm also very short (and wear platform boots), and our counters are just high enough that it makes it difficult for me to "get over" the tamper and straighten my wrist. I've also thought of wearing a wrist brace at work, but we wash dishes by hand, so my hands/wrists are constantly getting wet.
You have some great suggestions here.  I would also add just a couple things: be sure you aren't tamping with more than 30 lbs of pressure...if you are tamping with more pressure, making this simple adjustment can make a world of difference.  Also, since you can't get off bar, teach yourself how to tamp with your opposite hand, that way you'll be able to stay on bar and still give your arm a break.

Thanks for all the suggestions and reviving this thread! I will experiment with the methods you suggested Brady and let you know if they help (your descriptions were very clear, thank you for detailing them for me). Terika, I have never actually measured how much pressure I'm tamping, so I'll do that as well to see if I'm going much over 30 lbs. Bruce, I have plans to see a doctor and a massage therapist who also does adjustments. I'm guessing my wrists are my issue because of a clicking sound that occurs every time I bend my wrists, and I've noticed pain in my wrists performing some yoga poses, too. I'm getting dangerously close to 30 so I do want to fix this sooner than later.

Changing the direction of the conversation, Turning steam knobs is a huge culprit.  Lever actuated machines are a big improvement in this area, but unless your boss is going to run out and buy a new machine...try using your other hand for a week and see if there is an improvement. 

Another culprit is the repeated action of locking and unlocking the portafilter into the group.  UNIC has a new machine (Stella de Caffee) that uses brew pressure to lock the PF, so eliminates the need to yank and push and in theory helps reduce occurrence of carpel tunnel in baristas. 

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