Working in the kitchen takes muscles. Holding a vegetable in the grinder, rolling out dough, lifting slabs of meat, bundles of veggies, or carrying them all in your stock pot; it can really take its toll. by Karena Wu
It can definitely take its toll when you have to lift, reach or bend over with all of that weight. Take it from Jon Bignelli, of Alder and WD-50. When you’re a little bit taller, you have to move a little bit more to get to your final destination, especially when it comes to things below waist height. Jon came in as a patient when the pain became too unbearable and he started experiencing both low back pain as well as pain radiating down his leg.
Jon recalls his low back injury as stemming from a situation where he was loading a large roasting pan, used for making stocks into the oven. That means bending over with a heavy weight, placing the pan onto a shelf at an awkward angle and pushing it into the oven. The whole situation is a lesson in poor biomechanics. Typically, you are bending over at the waist, coming in from the side at an angle so you don’t touch the hot oven door and carrying a heavy weight far from your trunk which means exponential loads transmitted down your spine. It can break you, if you don’t have that inherent strength. Which a lot of chefs don’t have.
Forward bending with rotation is one of the worst positions for your lower back. It is a very common position as well as repetitive motion that can really hurt your low back, especially the discs in the low back. And when you blow a disc, or bulge or herniate a disc, that is when that disc pushes out backward and out to the side and usually touches a nerve that then causes pain down the leg. Think of your disc as a jelly doughnut. When the jelly pushes out into the dough, the dough bulges out and touches things next to it, which would be the nerves. Nerves do not like to be touched. That is when they cause and transmit pain to other areas of the body, or whatever structures the nerve innervates.
So, the motion of bending forward at an angle with a heavy and large roasting pan, caused an injury in the low back of Chef Bignelli. That is what caused him pain down into his leg.
Chef Jon came in complaining of low back and leg pain. The first thing we fixed as a Physical Therapist was his spinal alignment, how his low back and his pelvis sat in relation to each other. We were able to correct his alignment, which alleviated some of the pressure on his nerve root (what was causing his leg pain). Then we addressed any lumbar spine rotations (further relieving pressure on his nerve roots) and any soft tissues tightness and restrictions in the surrounding areas. Working on all of these areas, relieves the pressure on the spinal column and the nerves that exit the spine.
The next step was to retrain the stabilizer muscles in the spine and make sure that those were working appropriately. Strength, endurance and flexibility exercises were given to make sure that the low back and hips were functioning appropriately. Postural correction as well as core stabilization and activation were emphasized so that work conditions as well as down time were not negating the work done in rehabilitation.
Chef Bignelli is back on point at Alder. He is taller than most chefs and as such, has poor postural habits because kitchens aren’t built for everyone. His low back is better as he continues his rehabilitation exercises as well as corrects his posture when he can. When you can’t change those factors around you, you have to work harder at making sure you can adapt to your work conditions. We love the fact that tall Chef Bignelli has continued to make amazing gastronomical treats at Alder, without sacrificing his low back. Thanks Chef Bignelli!