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Miriam G

Chocolatier with carpal tunnel

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Hi friends,

I'm more a reader than a poster, but I'm hoping someone can give me some advice.   I am a relatively new chocolatier, and was fortunate enough to have a huge amount of business for the holidays.  About 7,000 bonbons produced, packed and shipped in two weeks.   I had some help, but the majority of the work was done by me.

 

The downside is that I started getting some pain in my wrists, which progressed to numbness and tingling in my hands, which is now even worse pain and limited mobility in my wrists and between my thumb and forefinger - essentially, carpal tunnel syndrome.

 

Since this is my chosen career and I'm just at the start of launching what I hope to be a very successful business, I need to find a solution to this ASAP.  I've rested a lot over the past week and got some wrist braces, but I went back into the kitchen today and after about 6 hours of work I had to stop because of the pain.

 

I've been working a lot with my Grex air brush, and I use a chocolate melter and EZ temper to shell and close my bonbons (i.e., it's manual, not a continuous flow machine).

 

Have any of you experienced something like this?  Did you find any work modifications that helped?  I'm thinking to try an air brush with a different trigger mechanism so I'm not using the same motion as I am with the Grex.  And while I know a shiny new Selmi would help with the shelling/closing, it's not in the budget right now.

 

I appreciate any words of wisdom or experiences you can share!

Happy and Healthy New Year to all!  

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Both wrists - so it's not all down to the Grex. The left wrist must be from lifting and flipping the molds. 

 

I don't know if a different airbrush might help or not. I seem to recall the Grex still requires a fair amount of trigger action so there might be some benefit from a brush/gun that requires less effort. Also don't know if you could look at the motions you go through with each mold and see if there are any changes you could make to minimize the movement at the wrist. 

 

Are you wearing the splints day or night or both? 

 

Most of my experience with carpal tunnel involves a medical approach more so than the ergonomics I'm afraid. Hopefully others on the board might have more useful suggestions. 

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Thanks, Kerry.  I've only been wearing the splints during the day....maybe I should try at night too.  The pain is definitely worse in my right hand, which I use to hold the Grex.  And I agree that in the left hand it's because of the lifting/flipping molds.  Are brushes like the Iwatas or Paasches easier to trigger?

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1 minute ago, Miriam G said:

Thanks, Kerry.  I've only been wearing the splints during the day....maybe I should try at night too.  The pain is definitely worse in my right hand, which I use to hold the Grex.  And I agree that in the left hand it's because of the lifting/flipping molds.  Are brushes like the Iwatas or Paasches easier to trigger?

Paasche or Iwata trigger differently but I think they would create more problems in the long term.

 

Usually splints are worn at night - with the addition of day if that is not helping as much as hoped. Steroid injections might help. Nerve/muscle studies might suggest further treatment.

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I'm not a chocolatier but I wore splints through the night for a few months and it really helped my pain. Had to change the way I did some things but was able to avoid a surgical solution. Good luck. 

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7 minutes ago, demiglace said:

I'm not a chocolatier but I wore splints through the night for a few months and it really helped my pain. Had to change the way I did some things but was able to avoid a surgical solution. Good luck. 

Thank so much demiglace, really appreciate the input!

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I'm a baker/cake decorator and have had carpal tunnel problems for years; during the worst of wedding season I wear the splints faithfully at night and it's a huge help.  If I don't, I find that the pain/numbness can wake me from a sound sleep.  I've also been told that Aleve works better on the extremities but I haven't had to use that yet.....

 

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2 minutes ago, JeanneCake said:

I'm a baker/cake decorator and have had carpal tunnel problems for years; during the worst of wedding season I wear the splints faithfully at night and it's a huge help.  If I don't, I find that the pain/numbness can wake me from a sound sleep.  I've also been told that Aleve works better on the extremities but I haven't had to use that yet.....

 

Thank you!  I think it's time to take some pain killers along with the splints :(

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Twenty-five years ago I was a knitter/designer when Carpal Tunnel syndrome hit.  I've worn braces at night since then.  I gave up knitting and took up a craft called coiling which had a different direction to the stress factors. although it too is small movements which are repetitive.  I decided some years ago, that despite my  great interest in chocolate that I could not become a chocolatier, which I had intended when I first joined eGullet ten years ago.   I've now had to give up all coiling also and am now finally facing surgery as I have nowhere else left to go for relief.  I've also left my involvement with the internet pretty much because even typing causes problems.  I realize that this post is not encouraging to you but it is what has happened to me.  Just typing these sentences is likely to result in a worse morning than if I had not typed them. 

I wish you all the best. 

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Darienne

learn, learn, learn...

Cheers & Chocolates

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3 hours ago, Darienne said:

Twenty-five years ago I was a knitter/designer when Carpal Tunnel syndrome hit.  I've worn braces at night since then.  I gave up knitting and took up a craft called coiling which had a different direction to the stress factors. although it too is small movements which are repetitive.  I decided some years ago, that despite my  great interest in chocolate that I could not become a chocolatier, which I had intended when I first joined eGullet ten years ago.   I've now had to give up all coiling also and am now finally facing surgery as I have nowhere else left to go for relief.  I've also left my involvement with the internet pretty much because even typing causes problems.  I realize that this post is not encouraging to you but it is what has happened to me.  Just typing these sentences is likely to result in a worse morning than if I had not typed them. 

I wish you all the best. 

Thank you, Darienne, for sharing your experience.  I'm sorry you've suffered so and had to give up things you enjoy doing.  I hope the surgery is successful and that you do find freedom from the pain.

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That's the problem with handmade, the hands!  If it already hurts and you're just starting out, that doesn't bode well.  How much pain can you take?  I mean, we all max ourselves out at holidays or wedding season, but it's smart to think long term.  If it's seasonal, can you spread production out over a longer period?  Make some flavors a month or six weeks ahead and freeze them.  If you're committed to bonbons, consider a depositor to save yourself piping all the ganache. 

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what @pastrygirl says!  If you are thinking of making chocolate a long term career, consider the fact that a depositor will help preserve your hands over the long haul.  Don't wait and buy one in three years after the damage is done to your wrists.  Valentine's Day is coming, followed closely by Easter and Mother's Day...  if you are able to do enough business during those holidays, target some of your revenue toward equipment purchases that will make your life easier and you more efficient in your production.

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Oh my I am brand new to this business...haven't thought about this.

Thanks guy's for the heads up, this forum has a wealth of information.

 

Good luck for upcoming Holiday Marathon! 

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I'll second the recommendation of upgraded equipment, though I'm no chocolatier. If you can't do it all yourself your options are a piece of machinery or more staff...staff are cheaper up front but costlier in the long term, whereas machinery is the opposite (and doesn't need training, won't call in sick, won't leave once you've spent six months training it to do things the way you want, etc).

 

When my parents had their bakery, my mother rolled the crust for tens of thousands of pies by hand (my father joked she could have arm-wrestled Popeye). When my cousin bought it from them, the first thing she brought in was a dough sheeter. She was able to make more pies than before, and (unlike my mom) didn't need to take muscle relaxants in order to sleep and avoid debilitating headaches. Different problem, but analogous.

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“What is called sound economics is very often what mirrors the needs of the respectably affluent.” - John Kenneth Galbraith

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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