Arthritis, In the Kitchen?

arthritis ankle treatment

The restaurant industry is a tough business. You see the desire to get into high end restaurants, the contacts you need to get a reservation, that dreamy look when a customer has tasted something amazing and then the praise and acclaim the chef gets. ‘That was amazing! How did you do that? The flavors were incredible!’ Maybe the chef has been on TV or has a book deal in the works. You want to be that chef, don’t you?

Well, those little ‘tastes’ of working in a fantastic restaurant and the celebrity status chefs get is definitely enticing. But it comes as a cost. And that cost is the long hours standing, bending forward, the intense heat and the criticism when you mess up at your station. Once you’ve gone through the school and become a chef, this is the life. You do it every day. It is normal for you and it is part of the job.  You do it with a normal working body. Imagine how this might feel with a disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis Joint Pain

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a systemic inflammatory chronic condition.  It can vary between individuals and is characterized by inflammation of the body as a whole, and always affects the joints. Weight-bearing joints are always prone to inflammation and wear and tear because of the constant use and work in carrying the body around. However, all parts of the body can be affected, with multiple joints involved and inflammation being the overriding theme. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury and disease but in people with RA, the inflammation occurs inappropriately and without cause. The body is attacking itself.

Chef Seamus Mullen of NYC’s Tertulia and El Colmado is known as the chef with RA.  Seamus became a patient of mine a few years ago. His course started in his left hip with excruciating pain and a visit to the emergency room. Multiple tests and doctor visits later, it was confirmed that he had RA. Our visits together focused on reducing his inflammation, restoring his joint immobility, reducing soft tissue restrictions while trying to maintain strength and flexibility without further irritating his already irritated joints. His biggest contributing factor: working in a hot kitchen, under stressful conditions that added more joint compression, load and irritation. Not the ideal working condition for someone with RA.

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Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include joint stiffness, swelling and pain.  The joints become inflamed during periods of exacerbation. The area gets ‘hot’, with increased skin temperature, significant swelling, and redness. The joint is ‘angry’. Typically, symmetrical distribution of joint irritation is present, meaning the same joint on both sides of the body. Also, hands are very commonly affected which means stirring, chopping, plating, all the work needed to create those magical dishes become difficult.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Joint Pain

Other symptoms involve feelings similar to the flu: malaise, fatigue, and muscle aches. For moderate to severe RA, nodules can appear under the skin as well as the involvement of major organs like the lungs, heart and eyes.

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis focuses on reducing inflammation and slowing or stopping the progression of the disease. Treatment includes medications, occupational or physical therapy, and regular exercise. Medications help reduce inflammation and typically work best in combination. They can include non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, steroids, biologic agents and pain killers. Physical and occupational therapy utilize manual therapies, exercises and modalities that reduce pain and inflammation and restore function. Other exercises focus on isolated joint strengthening, endurance and stability training as well as balance and proprioceptive activities. Exercises that increase flexibility and maintain strength around a joint reduce joint irritation by increasing space in the joint, reducing compression and allowing for tissue healing.

As Seamus has shown us, his arthritis remedies include many food products that reduce inflammation like berries, broccoli, and turmeric. His journey in life after being diagnosed with RA lead to the creation of his book, Hero Food, which focuses on the healing power of foods. These are easily included in your diet and can make for very tasty dishes that also serve to help heal the body.

Arthritis affects the young and the old and there are many different types. This is only one type that we are discussing here. This disease did not hold Chef Seamus back.  He turned his journey into a positive experience that helped him personally as well as professionally. Even with the work requirements in the kitchen, he is still able to spend time helping others with this condition. Participating in group events with a mutual cause is a wonderful way to celebrate people who have been diagnosed with a condition, but continue to live life to its fullest and keep themselves healthy and happy.

Dr. Karena Wu
Dr. Karena Wu is owner and Clinical Director of ActiveCare Physical Therapy. She has been practicing physical therapy for 16 years in New York City after she graduated from the Program In Physical Therapy at Columbia University. She received her clinical doctorate in physical therapy from Temple University. She has advanced training in manual therapies, specifically in the Maitland Australian Approach and Myofascial Release. Karena is a Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist, Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Kinesiology Tape Practitioner and Pilates Instructor. She is also LSVT BIG, FMS and SFMA Level 1 Certified. Karena is a dedicated practitioner who takes a holistic approach to her practice. She actively networks with a team of physicians, chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists. Her patient population consists of professional athletes, dancers, celebrity chefs, TV media stars, high end business professionals, and NYPD/FDNY. Karena is used as a healthcare expert on CBS, NBC, NY1, PIX11, Verizon Fios, Fox News and Dr. Oz. She is the Director of Education for SpiderTech Kinesiology Tape and is on the Medical Board of the Association of Volleyball Professionals. Visit her website at