Bartender pain can be a real pain in the neck… and back, legs, and feet.
Standing for long hours behind a bar, constantly using repetitive motions like reaching for glasses and bottles, and dealing with rowdy customers can take its toll on your body.
Anyone who has worked in the food service industry knows that it can be a physically demanding job. It’s also one that can make you go crazy with all of the shocking stories and life lessons, but that’s a whole other conversation.
Whether you’re working in a restaurant, during an event, or at a bar, there is always the potential for pain and injury.
In this blog post, the pros and I at Local Bartending School give you some tips on how to reduce the risk of annoying pain and bartender injuries that can put you out of a job and even, out of a house.
Before we get started, you have some things to look out for now that you’re a part of the food and beverage family. Common bartender injuries include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome and torn ligaments
- Cuts from broken glass
- Sprains and breaks from falling on slippery floors
- Tennis elbow. Symptoms may include pain when extending the arm, weakness in the arm, and difficulty gripping things. To find out more and how to treat this injury, head here.
- A bunch of other repetitive stress injuries
Stretching: Like Pregaming, But For Your Muscles
This is the quickest and most affordable win.
Warm up your muscles before your shift.
Just like any other physical activity, bartending requires you to use a lot of muscle groups. So, take a few minutes before your shift to do some simple exercises like arm circles and high knees. Dare I suggest… yoga?
Whatever you pick, you will help get your blood flowing and muscles ready for customer-service action. Plus, you’ll be less sore at the end of the night and the next morning when you have to come right back to work.
Water, Water, Water
Stay hydrated! It might not seem like it, but dehydration can actually contribute to pain levels. And happiness levels.
Have you ever stepped in the back-of-house (aka BOH) and noticed the porters wearing back braces on their lower back? There’s a reason for that and it’s not because they’re already injured. They’re preventing pain and injuries.
Just like those folks, pay attention to your posture.
It’s easy to get into bad habits when you’re standing for long periods of time, but slouching can lead to back pain and other injuries. So, make sure to stand up straight and use any sort of gear to help make that possible. You’ll reduce the added strain on your body that comes from working behind the bar.
Find the Time to Take Small Breaks
Take breaks when you can. It might not seem like it when you’re in the thick of things, but it’s important to take a break every now and then.
If you can manage (and I know it’s tough, but even a few breaths using your smartwatch during a potty break can help) step away from the bar for even just a few minutes. This will help you avoid fatigue, reduce cortisol production, and stay fresh throughout your shift.
Remember, labor laws exist and they apply to our industry. Empower yourself by learning what you’re entitled to as far as breaks go.
Here’s a story from my friend who found themselves in this exact pickle:
I was working at my old job as a bartender/cocktail server in Chicago. It was peak season during summer and we worked 12-hour shifts with no breaks. He said that it was essential that we had to work straight through. But it turns out, once we looked it up, we were due breaks!
My manager was just taking advantage of our total lack of knowledge.
It was really tough working those long shifts, but the worst part was when I started getting sick. I couldn’t afford to miss any of my shifts during peak, so I kept going even though I felt horrible.
And then one day, I woke up feeling so awful and realized that I had missed my shift the night before. My boss fired me for not coming in, and now I’m getting close to having to move back home and have no job. It’s not fair!
Watch to Learn with LBS: How Stress Impacts You and Your Brain
Researchers found that bartenders who worked with customers who were having a bad day were more likely to report feeling pain themselves. The study authors believe that this is because bartenders are constantly exposed to other people’s negative emotions, which can take a toll on their own physical and mental health.
So, bartender besties and mixologists, make sure to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. Try to stay positive despite the long hours and challenging work. If you can do these things, you’ll be one step closer to reducing bartender pain.
And if you’re not a bartender just reading this for funsies, try to be understanding of your bartender the next time you’re out having a drink. They may be dealing with a lot more than just your drink order.
Asking for Help Means Less Work (And Less Pain)
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Your co-workers will be more than happy to lend a hand, or a shoulder to cry on in the walk-in.
Pro Tip: Your barbacks are highly motivated to learn and earn some extra cash. I’ve always found that my team was willing to take out my heavy trash, sweep, and help restock if I was keen to throw them a fiver or a nugget of invaluable knowledge.
Use Your Arms, Not Your Back
When lifting heavy objects like kegs, always use your arms to lift them instead of your back. Why? To help to prevent strain on your back muscles and keep you from having issues later on in your life.
Your employer might have some materials for you to review best practices for lifting heavy objects specific to your job. Ask your supervisor or research online; there’s plenty available. Your future, old self will thank you.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
This is the most important piece of advice you can take away from this. Invest in (your work gear is tax deductible, my friends!) and make sure to wear comfortable shoes that provide support for your feet.
This will help to reduce the risk of pain or injury in your feet, ankles, and legs.
ProTip: Use heat and massage therapy after your shifts to keep those dogs from barkin’ too loud. Bonus for seeing a regular physical therapist or chiropractor for your bartender injuries.
Reduce Your Pain and Increase Your Bartender Game
Bartending can be a fun and rewarding job, but it does come with some risk of pain and injury. Overall, it can be super tough on your body if you’re not careful.
But by following what you’ve learned today, you can reduce your risk of pain and stay injury-free.
So, next time you’re getting ready for a shift, remember to warm up, pay attention to your posture, and take breaks when you can. Your body will thank you!
Make your time behind the bar more enjoyable. And if you do make a mistake, don’t worry. Just learn from it and move on. With Local Bartending School’s help, you can increase your bartending game to new levels!