Shake and ache

Athletes aren't the only ones with on-the-job injuries. Some food-and-drink pros feel the pain while pulling the perfect espresso or mixing a stiff martini. TONY looks into where it hurts.

Illustrations: Peter Hoey


Jim Meehan, head bartender at PDT (113 St. Marks Pl between First Ave and Ave A, 212-614-0386)
Ouchie: “I usually get [pain] where my trapezius connects to my shoulder. You have one shaker in each hand. Your tin is filled with big cubes or block ice and your arm is going from behind your head to the front—you’re shaking really hard for eight, nine seconds. We’re not athletes, but we rely on our bodies to make money.”
The culprit: “The Ramos Gin Fizz is the killer. Traditionally that drink is shaken for two minutes. I shake it for about a minute and a half.”
Doctor’s orders: “He’s holding the shakers too high,” says Dr. Vincent Perez, a physical therapist and director of sports therapy at Columbia Eastside medical center. “He’s rotating his shoulder blades too much, overusing those muscles and the neck muscles; he also risks developing bursitis and injury to his rotator cuff muscles. I recommend he hold the shakers at or below chest level.”

Illustrations: Peter Hoey


Jen Tong from il Laboratorio del Gelato (95 Orchard St between Broome and Delancey Sts, 212-343-9922)
Ouchie: “A little over a year ago my wrist was so sore that I was worried about it. I think it was mostly the scooping motion, but I also do a lot of pitting and cutting fruit and I think that definitely factored in.”
The culprit: “Something about our chocolate flavors makes them not that easy to thaw. The chocolate hazelnut also has pieces of nuts in it, which makes it harder to scoop.”
Doctor’s orders: “I’m guessing she has to reach to get to the ice cream containers, and the farther she reaches the more she has to rely on her wrist muscles, instead of the stronger muscles closer to the shoulder,” says Dr. Perez. “If she could get closer to the ice cream, she could use her bigger muscles more and her wrist less.” Perez recommends tools with thicker handles, “so that she doesn’t squeeze as much.”

Illustrations: Peter Hoey


Mary Ellen Amato, manager at Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee (multiple locations,
Ouchie: “If you’re making hundreds of espressos and lattes 40 hours a week every week, you’ll get a tendonitis feeling. We call it ‘barista arm’—it’s caused by overstressing your wrist and arm muscles when you’re tamping espresso.”
The culprit: “Any espresso beverage with an additional shot would be the most stressful. But when you make decaf espresso you need to tamp even harder.”
Doctor’s orders: “Just like with the ice cream, the closer she tamps to her body, the better, because she’ll use her larger muscle groups,” says Dr. Perez. “The key is to spread the work throughout the body as much as possible, so that no single muscle is doing too much work. It may help if she does a wrist stretch: Extend the arm out front with the palm facing down; with the free hand, pull the fingers under until they are pointing toward the torso.”

Illustrations: Peter Hoey


Bradford Thompson, executive chef at Lever House (390 Park Ave between 53rd and 54th Sts, 212-888-2700)
Ouchie: “I’m 6'2", and the kitchen counters are made for the ideal height of 5'10". Being on my feet all day and being bent over—[the pain] kind of collects in my back. If it’s a stressful time and there’s a lot going on, I’ll feel it in my shoulders and my back. As the day wears on, I’ll feel it intensifying. By the end of the day it’s a general weakness and soreness.”
The culprit: “Pasta is tough because you have to be bent over the dough. We do a lot of fresh pastas, like corn agnolotti and saffron and shellfish raviolini.”
Doctor’s orders: “His height is an issue, but raising his work surface isn’t realistic,” says Dr. Perez. “Standing for long periods doesn’t help: Most people tend to sway their hips forward with a curve in the lower back, while collapsing the head and shoulders. He should sit or squat once or twice every hourly for about 30 seconds, which will stretch his back.”

Illustrations: Peter Hoey


Ross Gill, executive chef at Home (20 Cornelia St between Bleecker and W 4th Sts, 212-243-9579)
Ouchie: “Right below my shoulder blade I get kind of a dull pain. It acts up after I’m done with a shift. It’s almost like a pinched nerve that feels sore in the back of my shoulder and runs down all the way to my pinkie. Doing sauté work, you’re constantly moving your shoulder in a circular motion. [It’s also] from picking up giant stacks of plates and putting them down.”
The culprit: No rest for the weary: Every dish needs a plate, and most dishes have a sautéed element. “We do all of our sauces to order, so basically everything gets put in a pan.”
Doctor’s orders: “Though there could be many things wrong,” says Dr. Perez, “he probably has endurance issues, which he needs to improve. He should start by lifting the stacks of plates in smaller batches, until his strength improves.”