Health and Wellbeing

Why does my back hurt after a shift?

Jul 21 2021

Restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels are open, the summer sun is shining (well, sometimes), and we can finally enjoy dining out with friends and family in larger gatherings. Things are looking up! But what does that mean for hospitality employees?

It’s been an incredibly tough time for the hospitality industry with challenges including furlough schemes, reduced hours, redundancies and business closures. While you’re no doubt keen to get back to normal as the industry picks up, diving back into working long shifts with extended periods on your feet might take some getting used to again. You’ll know that as much as you love your job, standing on your feet all day can often have a negative impact on your body. That’s why we’re here to help with some top tips on how you get back into the swing of things pain-free.

So, how can you prevent experiencing back pain, swollen ankles and aching feet at the end of a shift?

1) Build your core

It’s common for your leg muscles including the hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes and quads to become tight and fatigued during long work hours. When this happens, other muscles take up the task of moving in the way that we need them to, most often transferring to our lower back.

The most common task to causes stress on your lower back is lifting an object by bending at the hips without bending your knees – clearing a tray from a table or putting a plate down in front of a guest. From here your shoulders often hunch forward and bend your spine. Many of the small muscles connecting the vertebrae in your back are not designed to hold heavy loads with an over-flexed spine. Repeating this position over and over again can cause pulled tendons and muscles, herniated discs, pinched nerves and fatigued aches and pains. However, strengthening your core with pre-shift core exercises can help to support your back and reduce the risk of back pain and injury.

2) Strengthen your upper legs and hips

Your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hip flexors are all large muscles with functional levers to make lifting easy. Bulgarian split squats are a brilliant means of building glute, quad, hamstring and hip flexor strength in one single exercise. Start by standing in front of a box or raised and stable surface – feet hip-width apart, head up and chest tall. Shift your weight onto one leg and place your other foot on the box behind you. Keeping your chest high, lower yourself down, then pushing through your heel, stand back up without moving your feet. Repeat for 3 sets of 10repetitions on each leg.

3) Work your feet and ankles

You’re on your feet for long periods of time but strengthening them with toe-in heel drops can help them to bear the load. This exercise will also help to strengthen your calf muscles, which play an important role in supporting you throughout your shifts. Start this exercise by standing on the bottom step of a flight of stairs. Stand so that your toes and the front half of your foot are on the step and the back half is hanging off the back of the step. Holding onto the bannister, start by lowering your heels as low as you can below the height of the step, then lift them as high as you can. Repeat for 3 sets of 10 repetitions on each foot.

Staying pain-free during long hospitality shifts isn’t all about strengthening your body. However, it’s important to take care of your mind too…

4) Sleep and take your breaks

Tiredness can lead to poor decision-making and low levels of productivity. Sleep deprivation can in fact, increase sensitivity to pain. It’s important to take adequate breaks whenever possible and make sure you catch up on sleep in between shifts. Even if it means snoozing into the day!

5) Stretch

Incorporate stretching into your daily routine to help counteract the effects of repetitive tasks and prolonged standing. Simple stretches can be performed throughout your shift, even if it’s a quick 10-second stretch here and there during your breaks or even when you nip to the toilet.

6) Stay active

When you’ve spent hours on your feet at work, getting out to exercise might be the last thing on your mind. However, incorporating exercise into your daily routine to improve spinal health and overall well-being. Try getting out for a walk in the fresh air and if you’re keen to keep off your feet then swimming, kayaking or cycling are fun and social ways to keep active and healthy.

If you have any injuries, aches, pains or concerns, simply book in for an assessment with one of our expert physiotherapists – we’re happy to help.