The Back (and Foot) Breaking Lives of Bartenders
Posted by Jenn F. on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013
I worked as a bartender for a few years and there were great things about it: the adulation, the tips, the cool custom apparel, and the free drinks. But it was also the hardest job I’ve ever had. It’s 12 hours of carrying liquor up and down stairs, lugging kegs from the back room, shaking a million drinks, cleaning heavy mats, serving food, breaking up fights, and wrangling tips out of drunken patrons without ever sitting down. It’s extremely physically demanding and, as a result, bartenders often suffer from injuries. Heavy lifting causes back, leg, and foot injuries. Shaking heavy ice-filled shakers over one’s head cause neck, arm, and hand injuries. Most bartenders are walking invalids, suffering from multiple aches and pains at once. In my experience, the foot injuries were the most troubling. While you can adjust your shake, pour, and carry to accommodate pain, you can’t avoid being on your feet. Sprains, bunions, stress fractures, and ingrown toenails plague the bar staff. Surprisingly, back injuries also result in foot pain, tingling, and numbness that can be debilitating. And a few late-night brawls sure don’t help.
Bartenders, along with police officers and security guards, face the highest rates of nonfatal workplace violence. Think about it: a lot of people go to the bar to drown their sorrows. They’re already emotionally edgy. Add some volatile sports fans, some vodka, and a tight space, and you’re priming the pump for aggression and violence. Bartenders are in charge of keeping the peace. Unless there’s a heavyweight bouncer on site (and if the bar isn’t in a big city, and it’s not Saturday night, there probably won’t be) the bartender is the bar’s only real defender. And drunk patrons, afraid to throw a punch, often resort to the foot stomp to debilitate a sober employee.
And then there’s all that upper body activity, made worse in recent years by the invention of Kold-draft ice machines. These machines make large, heavy ice cubes that cool drinks faster and melt more slowly. But they add a huge amount of weight to the bartender’s shaker. A back injury from shaking, carrying heavy objects, and twisting to reach the limes is bad news for the feet. We know back injury can affect gait, and an adjusted gait can cause foot problems. But you might be surprised to learn that a back injury can also cause foot problems directly. Usually these have to do with your nerves. If you have tingling, unexplained pain or numbness, and lower leg pain, your back may be the source of your foot problem.
So what is a busy bartender to do? It’s impossible to eliminate the risks at such a demanding job but, as always, there are some steps you can take to minimize them.
- Yep, this again: wear steel-toed, non-slip shoes. The steel toe is key. Stomps and dropped bottles (a la Rihanna’s bartending debacle) will never be a problem again. And, as you know, good, wide shoes will protect you from bunions and ingrown toenails.
- Adjust your shake to make it more ergonomic. Holding the shaker in the middle of your body instead of over your head can make a big difference. And try not to put on so much of a show. A few strong shakes are enough.
- Lift with the legs. Improper lifting is a major cause of back injury.
- If you have pain, visit The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Remember the mantra: early treatment is always best.
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.