How Stretching Can Minimize Staff Injuries in Your Restaurant

You treat your patrons right, but don’t forget about your staff! They can experience muscle aches, discomfort and even long-term health issues. Long hours, bending to serve customers and performing repetitive tasks all contribute to these health risks.

Shifts in a hot kitchen or lunch rush lunacy can be an adrenaline high, but what happens after? Your team might not realize they’re running on empty until they’re well into the crash.

Instead of waiting for a four-alarm blowout, build time for a break. Stretches and breathwork are great ways to release tension and keep their bodies in tune.

When you debrief a new shift, remind employees to stretch

You’ve probably discussed the importance of staying energized during work. Your staff spends long hours on their feet, delivering service with a smile no matter their feelings. Teach your team to recognize their limits and empower them to help themselves by stretching. Make it a part of the daily routine.

Why stretching is essential in bars and restaurants

Think of stretching as a small but vital investment in your staff’s well-being, like morning coffee for the muscles.

Standing long periods at the dishwashing station can take a toll on your employees’ knees and circulation. Carrying trays, breaking down tables and working the grill can result in strains or pulls. These are known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

A stretching routine can reduce MSDs and help:

  • Increase elasticity. Regular stretching can improve muscle elasticity, muscle control, flexibility and range of motion.
  • Decrease muscle fatigue. Stretching can alleviate muscle soreness, stiffness and fatigue. That means saying goodbye to aches that are common after double shifts.
  • Improve circulation. Stretching promotes circulation, which keeps the body in prime form throughout the workday.

Preventing work-related MSDs

Each job role is unique. Educate your staff on the importance of pain. If they’re feeling it, their body needs an adjustment.

You can help your team identify relevant stretches to align with their jobs. For instance, waitstaff might benefit from shoulder and wrist stretches, while kitchen staff might find back and leg stretches useful. Braces, anti-fatigue mats and other assistive devices could help, too.

Learn how to do stretching exercises. In your break room or locker, hang visual aids showing how to do some easy stretches. Remind staff to stretch before and during their shifts.

Ergonomic tips

Proper ergonomic practices can substantially reduce physical strain and make daily tasks more comfortable. Here are a few suggestions:

Adjust heights

Adjust the height of the surfaces employees use to meet customers or prepare meals. This will reduce the need to bend or stretch excessively.

Modify tasks

Varying tasks can help reduce repetition of the same movements, which can lead to MSDs.

Organize work areas

Keep items used most frequently within easy reach. This minimizes the need for bending, reaching and twisting.

Require comfortable footwear

High-quality, nonslip, supportive shoes are indispensable. Using insoles or orthotic inserts can also help reduce risks associated with standing for long periods.

Teach good posture

Maintaining good posture is crucial. Train your employees not to hunch when serving customers. They should bend at their knees instead.

Teach proper lifting techniques

When lifting heavy objects, employees should bend at their knees and use their leg muscles rather than their backs. Think of how a toddler picks up something from the floor. They position themselves as close to the object as possible and then lift.

A few stretches for tired muscles

Implementing a regular stretching routine before, during and after shifts can significantly reduce discomfort and long-term health risks. Here are some simple stretching exercises you can teach your employees.

Calf stretches

Stand approximately two feet from a wall. Place your hands on the wall while moving one foot behind the other. Keep your back foot flat on the ground. You’ll feel a stretch in your calf. Repeat with the other leg.

Hand-finger tendon glide

Start by extending your fingers out straight. Make a hook fist by bending your fingers at the middle knuckles while keeping the base of your fingers and thumbs straight. Slowly return your hand to its straightened position. Next, make a full fist by curling your fingers into your palm. Slowly straighten your fingers. Finally, bend your fingers so they make a flat fist. Your fingertips should touch the base of your palm. Repeat each gesture 10 times, then proceed to the next hand gesture. This helps alleviate hand and finger strain.

Lower back stretch

Bend your body forward at the hips with your knees slightly bent. Reach for the floor. This stretch can relieve tension in your lower back.

Quad stretches

Hold onto a steady object, bend one knee and bring your foot toward your buttock to stretch the front of your thigh. Do the same on the other side. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat three to five times.

Shoulder shrugs

Shrug your shoulders toward your ears and then relax them into their natural position. This helps release the tension in your neck and shoulders.

Tennis ball roll

Sit comfortably in a chair with a tennis ball near your feet. Take off your shoes. Place one foot on top of the tennis ball. Apply gentle pressure and roll the ball under your foot, focusing on the arch, heel, and ball. Continue for a few minutes. Repeat the process on your other foot. This helps with discomfort from standing or walking for extended periods.

Don’t forget to breathe

Mindful breathing during stretching ensures muscles receive plenty of oxygen to recover. It also increases circulation. Besides physical benefits, focused breathing also helps lower stress levels. Deep breathing stimulates the body’s relaxation response, driving down heart rate and blood pressure and encouraging calmness. Here’s one way to integrate breathwork into your stretching routine.

Controlled breathing

Before beginning each stretch, take a slow, deep breath and allow your lungs to fill with air. Ease into the stretch and slowly exhale while you complete your stretch. Keep it controlled and steady, fully exhaling and inhaling. Take another deep, cleansing breath in as you ease out of each stretch. Release the breath as you return to your resting pose.

Conscious integration of breathing with stretching can provide physical and emotional wellness, which is critical for keeping things cool in a bustling restaurant or bar.

Create a routine that works for your employees

Implementing stretching and ergonomic strategies into your daily routine can dramatically impact your team’s physical health and job satisfaction. Their health and well-being are crucial to your thriving restaurant business.

Give your staff some care and a safe place to retreat when stretching. Remember that a few well-targeted stretches could make the difference between a manageable shift and one filled with aches and strains. Help them stay nimble!

This content is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing professional, financial, medical or legal advice. You should contact your licensed professional to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.