Chef knife

How to reduce wrist and shoulder pain when using a chef knife.

I have always enjoyed seeing a chef carry all their knives to and from work. Like any trade’s person, care for your tools is paramount. Chefs are excellent at caring for their tools but leave much to be desired when it comes to maintain the body wielding them.  Today we are going to cover some common injuries working with a chef’s knife and how we can take steps to prevent them.

Now before we get into this, I do want to note that this article is not designed to treat the signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. If you are experiencing chronic pain in your hands at work please go to your doctor and get it assessed by them. They will connect you to a specialist that can help get you on a path to recovery. This article focuses on ways to reduce your chance of showing the signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Shoulder, Elbow, Wrist. Connected for better or worse.

The human arm has been designed for a large range of motion. This was helpful for climbing when we lived in more prehistoric times. Our elbow can produce force and help us lift and carry objects. Finally, our dexterous hands are able to hold and manipulate any object or tool to get a task done.

While the huge range of motion of our arms allows us to do many tasks, they can easily repeat a task that may not be the safest to prevent repetitive strain injuries. Let’s start with the wrist and work our way up the arm.

Wrist Movements and Problems:

Chef’s usually hold a knife with a pincer grip. Using the thumb and index finger to hold the blade wile the palm and fingers wrap around the handle to steady the movement. This allows fast and accurate work when chopping or prepping various food items.

The wrist has 7 bones in close proximity. Within these bones there are tendons, nerves, ligaments, and blood vessels passing through them.  The bones are arranged to allow for flexion, extension, radial deviation, and ulnar deviation. Simply our wrists are designed for a high amount of movement. However when we hold one position for an extended period of time we run the chance of impinging various structures that pass through the bones of the wrist.

One common injury we may see is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). This occurs when the median nerve is impinged as it passes through the carpal tunnel. This is usually caused by the transverse carpal ligament becoming inflamed by the wrists being held in an awkward position for an extended period of time.  CTS is usually pain through the thumb index and middle finger and can be debilitating in server cases.

Hold a chef’s knife with a flexed wrist is a perfect culprit for the cause of these symptoms. But we can remedy this problem with a few specific fixes to the workstation.

Reducing your chance of wrist pain

Workstation Height for high precision work.

If you are doing high speed work like julienning or dicing there is a chance that the workstation can be too low and will place our wrist in an extended position. This can cause the pressure on the carpal tunnel and boost the chance of carpal tunnel. To remedy this, we want to create the conditions for a neutral wrist position.

Reduce flexion positions while working with a chef knife

Reduce flexion positions while working with a chef knife

Maintain a flat neutral wrist as often as possible.

Maintain a flat neutral wrist as often as possible.


When julienning, or dicing you want the workstation to come up higher so that you are not forced to extend the wrist. Bring your forearm and hand up your stomach until you have a neutral wrist and a 90- 110 degree position at the elbow. This is the height you want the board at to work on. This will allow for precision and speed while still maintain a safer wrist position.  You can raise cutting boards to the height you need by ordering a riser or stacking some cutting boards together. Make sure you place a wet cloth between each board to keep it from slipping. Always make sure that surface you are working on is secure to prevent any accidents.

Shoulder Position and maintenance while working with a chef knife.

The workstation height will create the conditions for a safer wrist and elbow position. The shoulder is going to take a little more practice and training. During knife work we want to make sure our shoulder stays in a relaxed or lowered position. Many chefs will hunch over time because they are looking down at there work.

We want to create opportunities for the shoulders to be held in slightly retracted position. Think all the cues for ‘proper posture’ you were told growing up. The easiest way to get this position is to raise your shoulders towards your ears-> pull them back - > and then lower them back down. See the pictures below:

Now obviously you will not be able to maintain this position forever. No one can hold the perfect position forever because this takes energy. The best way to remedy this is to take regular movement breaks to give our shoulders a break. About every 20 – 30 minutes you can do one the following three movement patterns. They will take 30 seconds to do so they won’t drop your productivity.

8 Shoulder rolls back wards and forwards. 

Gif Credit to:

Gif Credit to:

5 Shoulder blade pinches.

Chest opener and Back hunch stretch

Hold for only about 5-10 seconds

Hold for only about 5-10 seconds

Hold for about 5-10 seconds.

Hold for about 5-10 seconds.

Once you build the habit for these exercises you will not notice the time it takes to complete them is pretty short. The exercises will promote a better posture by create the movement needed to prevent your shoulders from falling in.

Go give this a try! Your wrists and shoulders will thank you