If Newcastle-based podiatrist Damian Mather was standing in front of a room of chefs, he could talk for hours. Such is the prolific nature of foot health problems faced by hospitality professionals.

Back of house or front of house, a number of risks come with restaurant, café, bar and pub jobs. Chefs are often confined to small spaces while wait staff are on the move. The commonality? Both are on their feet for hours on end, likely on hard surfaces wearing less-than- optimum footwear.

Unsurprisingly, foot pain is a common complaint and hospitality professionals are frequent patients at podiatry clinics. Mather sees people from the industry in his practice frequently. “Everyone has a different shaped foot, so everybody can have a different problem to the next person,” says the podiatrist. “But the most common complaint we get is plantar fasciitis, which is a strain of the band that runs up under the arch.”

It’s a condition that tends to hit chefs hardest. “The problem with cheffing is there’s a lot of standing still,” says Mather. “Walking is better than standing.” Fatigue injuries are also prevalent across the industry.

The conditions of restaurant life can lead to overuse injuries — think repetitive strain injuries and stress fractures. Whatever the concern, there are a number of strategies to reduce discomfort. While foot care, such as keeping nails trimmed and checking for calluses, corns and cuts is important, it generally applies across the board no matter a person’s line of work.

Given the nature of hospitality, footwear needs particular attention. A lot of the safety footwear worn by kitchen staff have two things in common; a thick sole and steel caps or reinforced toes. “It all adds weight,” explains Mather. “That impacts the back onto the foot and a lot of them lack support.” The result is a strain injury, like plantar fasciitis, which most often causes pain in the heel and occasionally in the arch.

Podiatrists treat persistent and recurring pain, so Mather’s suggests visiting a professional if the pain continues for more than a few days. “Looking at the footwear [chefs wear], a lot of the boots are good; they’re just flat,” he says. “We often take out the flat insole and replace it with a more supportive option.”

Off-the-shelf alternatives are typically used for short-term injuries — think heat-molded insoles — while chronic pain will usually require a customised device. Mather says most aches and pains can be pinned to one issue. “It boils down to support … that’s the biggest thing.”

Image credit: Oliver Harvey

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