Help! My body is breaking

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Joined Jul 27, 2018
Hey all,

Needing some advice from those who’ve been in this industry for decades... bc the time has come and my body is starting to break down! I fortunately started when I was a kid, so I am still actually young even tho it’s been 15 yrs of full abuse towards my poor body. I knew the day would come. But it’s come a lot earlier than I was hoping, and at a moment when (most of us?) are back on the line/in production than ever before. Escaping the physical for the office isn’t a option at this point since it seems most (in NY) are bound to do both to try and survive covid.
Anyway, my index finger joint is messed. Up. To the point where holding a knife hurts so bad I’ve started trying to chop w my left hand.... moderate success there, but slows me down a lot. Beyond that my sad sad feet are in extreme pain by hr 8, where I can’t think of anything else! Normally I pop Advil like candy, but can’t take painkillers right now bc of reasons. Not drinking, not overweight, pretty fit. How do you all cope??! I am so sad bc I know so many chefs rn are just aching for work, and here I am with literal anxiety about going in every day bc I know how bad it’s gonna hurt. The finger joint is really killing me. Help!
 

kuan

Moderator
Staff member
7,039
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Joined Jun 11, 2001
Not knowing your exact situation I would try and practice some better self care the way athletes practice self care. You're going to get asked about shoes and my go to shoe while in the kitchen was Dansko clogs.

So self care and recovery. I think most stuff you can get from Amazon

Foam roller for your legs.
Trigger point massage tool for your back.
Massage gun.
Compression socks.
Knee support.

I'm sorry about your index finger. It seems like an overuse injury. Perhaps find a different knife hold for doing large stuff or different knife with a more ergonomic grip.
 
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Joined Jul 27, 2018
Thanks, yeah I’ve done Danskos for years, compression socks and the roller for the last year. Used to do cheap shoulder massages before covid. The feet I can handle.... it’s mostly the combo now w the finger and being recommended by dr to cut out the pain killers. : (
 
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You need to see a doctor about the index finger. Do not self diagnose.
Your feet need better shoes. Two years ago I went to buy shoes insisting I needed a certain size. An older sales woman at an athletic shoe store informed me that as we age, our feet spread a bit and need a bit more room and that personally I needed more arch support. She measured my foot and I walked out with a larger size and some arch support gel inserts.
I replace the inserts when needed and the shoes when my feet begin hurting, usually after six months. I work in a large facility, am overweight, in minimum condition and do a lot of walking every day so six months is about all I get from a pair of shoes but I can make it through a long day with minimum problems.
Get yourself to a shoe store.
 
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Joined Sep 17, 2018
You need to see a doctor about the index finger. Do not self diagnose.
Your feet need better shoes. Two years ago I went to buy shoes insisting I needed a certain size. An older sales woman at an athletic shoe store informed me that as we age, our feet spread a bit and need a bit more room and that personally I needed more arch support. She measured my foot and I walked out with a larger size and some arch support gel inserts.
I replace the inserts when needed and the shoes when my feet begin hurting, usually after six months. I work in a large facility, am overweight, in minimum condition and do a lot of walking every day so six months is about all I get from a pair of shoes but I can make it through a long day with minimum problems.
Get yourself to a shoe store.

This exactly. Cannot stress enough that not investing in good foot wear is a major mistake. Yeah those shoes from the big box store may be budget friendly, but you are going to pay for it over time. As far as the finger, that should be looked at by a professional.
 
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I echo the good, well sized shoes advice. For me it was more about width than length. I've been using Keens shoes for their wide "duck feet" toes and good arch support - it has been a huge help. I also know when the feet start hurting, it is time for a new pair.

For the finger, if it is inflammation (arthritis) ask your doctor if you can try cbd oil. I have been using a full spectrum oil - locally sourced, and I know it actually has cbd in it - and it has been amazing. I use it for my knees - bad knees run in my family and standing in a kitchen all day doesn't help. With a daily dose, I very rarely have knee pain or swelling at the end of the day. You do have to be sure you use a brand that is not just "snake oil" as is common with anything that becomes a trendy item. It doesn't work for everyone, but it has for me - I had to stop taking it for 3 days for a procedure and my knees were hurting by the end of the last day. Back on the daily dose now and good to go.
 
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I’ve got serious issues with my feet, yet I can still work a. 8-10 hr shift 6 days a week—have been since the early 80’s.

See a foot specialist—a podiatrist. What kind of pain, when, and where? What do you feel as soon as you swing your feet out of bed? Don’t bother with a G.P., S/he ‘ll just refer you to a podiatrist.

Whatever the outcome you’ll have to spend some money on decent footware, and smart people buy two or three pairs of real good shoes. The shoe—no matter how expensive, well built, or made with space age materials,—needs to rest 24 hrs after a 12 hr beating. In other words you need to rotate them.

Hope this helps....
 
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Joined Jul 27, 2018
Thanks all very much. Hearing that you’re still making it through the long days without tons of pain gives me lots of hope! I just kind of assumed that this was the new normal, and was pretty bummed! Watched too many older line cooks without the $$ for shoes/dr etc just complain non stop about how twisted their bodies were, and figured it had come for me. Happily, I have pretty good insurance so looking forward to some relief. Thanks for the suggestions!
 
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I just had my 4th injection in my thumb joint yesterday. I too have pain while holding a knife or pen.
Doc says I need to stop using my hands......You might was well shoot me now.
 
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I should have included that I have always needed wide shoes. So when I upped a size or two it was always with wide shoes. Some sales people aren't very informed and will try to simply sell a larger size. That just means the shoe will be longer. So the sales woman upped me a size for age and then a half for the inserts, always wide style. Before leaving the store, we made sure the shoe could handle the insert and my foot and still be comfortable. The difference was tremendous. Now if they don't have what I need in wide, I keep shopping at different stores until I find what I need.
And I will echo buying two pair, even three because when the time comes and your feet start hurting again, it's nice to have the next pair already on hand.
 
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Just a side note on expensive shoes... I did buy one pair that cost $450 cdn about 8 years ago, these are my tue. and fri. shoes— all leather, had them re-heeled about six times now.
But the other two pair of shoes, also all leather with steel shanks and Goodyear welts were bought at goodwill and second hand stores, I think I paid $35. for an almost new pair of Florsheims, and $20 for another pair of similar quality. The nice thing about good quality shoes is that you can get them repaired, ( $35/ for new heels) so over a five year period it’s much cheaper to go this way than to rush off to Mal*Wart every 8 weeks and buy a new pair from factory #14 in Guondong.

Anyway take good care of your body—you only get one per lifetime....
 
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tbh i was in a similar boat as you but i told myself to hold the position for 1 year to build my resume. I went from scratch kitchen fine dining to hospital. the quality of life is much better and you could get paid much more. I then parlayed that into a director/exec chef role at a retirement home and only work 40hrs a week. I am about to turn 32 so you gotta slow down a bit. There is no shame in taking on a smaller facility so you have quality of life.
 
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Former chiro here and just a foodie. If I may inquire your age. You can pm me as it's a privacy issue but can be very relevant to your situation.
 
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Joined Jul 27, 2018
Former chiro here and just a foodie. If I may inquire your age. You can pm me as it's a privacy issue but can be very relevant to your situation.
Early 30s. It’s pretty early for all this to start imo, but I have worked in kitchens since 15, and done 60-80 hr weeks (normally had a couple jobs) for about ~10 years of that. But an appointment with a podiatrist has been set up! I was on the fence about it but my feet are truly a mess, so want some help on the shoe figuring out part.
 
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Joined May 30, 2015
Don't limit yourself to restaurant shoes. Try some other avenues as well when looking for shoes.

I worked for years in a pair of Red Wing Pecos round-toe cowboy/roper boots like what a lot of electricians and linemen wear. They were water/slip resistant, electric-shock resistant (not that that matters much in a restaurant), but they were also wide enough to allow my feet room to expand sideways and really spread out and very comfortable. They also had very thick memory foam insoles that held up for 3+ years.

For long hours on my feet, I've found that wide boots with loose-fitting vamps/insteps and minimal arch support (but plent of cushion) are what work best for me. They can be a little clumsy when you're walking long distances very fast, especially if you're not used to wearing boots, but in terms of endurance, I can stand up all day with no foot pain at all.

I'm working in a pair of Ozark Trail hiking boots now - also very comfortable and slip-resistant.

As far as chopping, try a food processor or Slap-Chop or something like that until you figure out what's wrong with your finger.

Other than shoes - I would also recommend general exercise. I've found calisthenics and stretches go a long way towards your endurance in the kitchen. I like Total Body Sculpt with Gilad, but there are plenty of other 20-30 minute workout videos on the internet. Try to find one that has a good mix of cardio, core training and stretches. I've also found working out for 10-20 minutes a day on my Total Gym is a pretty low-impact way of building/maintaining muscle and increasing endurance. A friend of mine does the same thing with a Bowflex. Just find a small machine in the $2-300 range that looks good to you.

Also, don't be afraid to take a break at work. I won't work anywhere that won't let me sit down for a few minutes every hour or two and also have a real 30 minute sit-down lunch break at some point in my shift. If it's slow, don't be afraid to pull up a stool and work sitting down. I've cooked steaks sitting on a stool or done prep work sitting down plenty of times. Not everything has to be done standing up.

And don't neglect hygiene or sleep. After a long day at work, there's nothing better than taking a long bath and relaxing your muscles. Get a fizzy bath ball or some Mr. Bubble, light some incense and drink a beer or light a J in the bathtub before going to bed. Sleep (and days off) are very important to the body. Not sure how your 60-80 hours are spread out, but I've always done better with longer hours/more days off than working less hours over more days.

I'd also try not to get into the habit of popping a lot of pills. It's one of those things that has a decreasing effect each time you take it, and sooner or later you reach the point that they don't work like they used to. I would say I take pain medication around 1-3 times per year and it's usually aspirin. Other than that, the only medicine I take is my daily blood pressure pill and a few beers every 1-3 weeks.

Watch your diet as well. I know it's very hard to do in a restaurant, but try to eat as healthy as you can. I'm not saying you can never enjoy good tasting foods or eat deserts, but don't let FOMO or convenience ruin your diet.

I'm about the same age as you, and I feel great (not bragging - just saying). I have days where I feel tired/worn out/etc, but overall I feel great. Just find what works for you and take care of yourself and never forget what you're working for (to have money to spend with friends, family and yourself). At the end of the day, your job is just that - a job.
 
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Joined Nov 9, 2020
I had the same issue with the feet, and my daughter (imagine that!!) recommended I try Birkenstocks. It took some getting used to, but darned if it didn't help. Also she gave me a couple free visits to a sports med doc she knew who got me to correct my posture, which, as I realized later, had gone to heck. It all helped.

My old exec, when he showed up at work, spent 15 -30 minutes doing warm ups and stretches. As did most everyone who had worked there for any length of time. And it helped immensely.

Also I started wearing wrist braces, hand braces, and whatnot. Avoided having carpal tunnel done, but it was a close thing. there were a couple other things we tried that helped, but I won't disclose it on an open board, so PM me if you want.
 
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