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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Hi Samara,


Here are some stretches you can try that may help with your wrists. Do this before you go to work and one or two more times during your work day. 

Lock elbow straight, palm downward.  Extend hand and fingers (meaning try to extend your fingers and hands back towards your torso.  Assist with the other hand, pulling back(from the palm side) against the fingers.  Only hold for 10 or 15 seconds, then rest and repeat 6 - 10 times. Be careful not to overdo it.  Just go until you feel a slight stretch. 


Lock elbow straight, palm upward.  Extend hand and fingers, meaning you stretch your hand and fingers towards the ground.  Assist with your other hand by pushing against your fingers (palm side) towards the ground.  Same duration, same number of reps. 


Lock elbow straight with palm downward fingers out straight.  Flex hand, while keeping fingers straight.  The movement is all at the wrist.  You use your other hand to assist by pushing the hand down (from the back side of the hand) and towards you with fingers out straight.  Same # of reps. 


Lock elbow straight, palm downward.  Make fist then flex hand downwards.  Assist with other hand by pushing down on the back of the hand.  Same number of reps.  You can also try doing this with each individual finger.  You can feel the stretch on the back of your hand and into your wrist. 


There are others that are a little more complicated.  If interested, I'll type those in as well. 


Here are a few ways to assess whether you have carpel tunnel or something else.  

Put the backs of your hands together with fingers pointing down. You push in a little along your knuckels so that your hands are being pushed towards the inside of your arms.  Don't push too hard though, but just enough to get a stretch.  If you start to feel pain only in your wrists and arms then you may not have carpel tunnel.  However if you have pain or numbness running up into your fingers then it could be an indication of carpel tunnel. 


The inside of your wrist tends to have two creases and its most noticeable when you bend your wrists and fingers towards the inside of your arm.  Well there is a spot right at the middle of the crease closest to your fingers that is really sensitive if you have carpel tunnel.  Tap firmly with one finger on that spot and maybe a little slightly towards your finger tips.  If the impact produces an electric shock like or tingling or numbness sensation in your hand and some fingers, then you may have carpel tunnel.  You may also try sustained pressure while you turn your head 180 degrees away from the arm and wrist you are testing.  


These are not sure fire ways, but are helpful in helping you understand what might be going on.  


I have more ideas for do it yourself hand therapy, but this is getting long.  I am also a graduate of the New Mexico School of Natural Therapeutics and a licensed Massage Therapist. 


By the way, Keith's idea is great.  Try to give the wrist that hurts as much rest as possible. It can't heal if you don't rest it. Hopefully your doctor will have some more ideas for you. 


Good luck.




Samara Hobbes said:

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.

I have been working on bar for 7 years now, but a little less recently.  When I first started to notice some wrist pain I corrected my posture and tamping style immediately.  The pain quickly subsided. 


I am curious to see if anyone else has experienced shoulder pain; possibly due to portafilter release, steam knob turning, and various other barista activities.  I saw one other comment on this, but am wondering if it is more common.  This is my most common ailment. As a manager, I distribute my time throughout the shop, both on and off bar.  Each time I am on bar I notice a tingling in my right shoulder. Not a terrible pain, just a slight annoyance. 

Great topic. Some random thoughts... I have a tendency to raise and tighten my right shoulder when pouring -- I'm right handed. I noticed some wcb contestants visibly thinking of, and consciously relaxing their shoulders prior to pouring. I also noticed a couple of them holding their arms closer to their bodies when holding and pouring cup & pitcher. 


The wrist tilt required when using one hand to pour from a full carton of milk is another place where stress is incurred. I try to use two hands when possible but speed often means I need my left hand free.


Last comment: when flicking loose grinds off a polished puck, some people flip the portafilter completely around in their hand (via the grip). I only flip it half way to vertical over the knockbox, as in our shop the lead baristas prefer we not do a full turn (too showy). But I've often wondered if a full turn is easier on the wrist than a half-turn, which requires you to stop abruptly and turn the portafilter back up so it's ready to load in the grouphead.

One thing I didn't even realize I was doing until a coworker complained of right wrist pain was that, when brewing on one group(if I'm doing 2 shots simultaneously I lock them in at the same time), I start locking in with my right hand and then finish locking in with my left. This accomplishes two things:

-it takes some stress off of my right(predominant wrist) which already does enough between tamping, turning on the steam wand and pouring pitchers/gallons of milk.

-it leaves my right hand free to start the shot brewing immediately once the portafilter is locked in, and allows me to pick up a steaming pitcher with my left hand while I am starting the shot, so it's very efficient.

All the little things we rarely think of that save us seconds and some pain!

I've spent a decade+ doing this and never had a problem. From watching and exploring others I've been been able to have some successful diagnosis. At least for said others. One big problem I notice is not replacing group head gaskets often enough and cranking too hard to insert portafilter. Other than that, I think there is an emphasis on heavy tamping that isn't necessary. 

surely it really gets worse when you start a shift without having enough of the sleep, hopping to stand all throughout. but all you need to do is to relax and feel free while on shift, for real you will get it right.


mayinja marvin said:

surely it really gets worse when you start a shift without having enough of the sleep, hopping to stand all throughout. but all you need to do is to relax and feel free while on shift, for real you will get it right.


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