Being a chef is sometimes a pain in the feet. Chefs and culinary workers are typically on their feet more than 10 hours a day, 6 days per week, and for an estimated 120,000 hours during the course of a career. And the damage is not from excessive walking and running. The damage is from the long periods of standing. 


The damage has a name—“Chef’s Foot”—a term used to cover the plethora of foot problems plaguing chefs and culinary workers. Sometime it’s just a small nagging discomfort of the by the end of the day, but it frequently develops into foot abnormalities that become debilitating and result in time missed from work.


“I have Plantar fasciitis, Morton's neuroma, metatarsalgia and occasionally I feel as if I'm standing on a bare electric wire when my pinched nerve condition acts up,” states one east coast chef. Another chef developed painful bone spurs.  “My bone spurs ended up right directly behind my Achilles tendon. Had to have it detached, the spurs shaved and the tendon re-attached with pins…long recovery.” A few of the common foot ailments that plague chefs are: Hallux Rigidus, Morton’s Neuroma, Metatarsalgia, Plantar Fasciitis, and Bunions. What are these afflictions and can they be treated or prevented?


Hallux rigidus—Hallux means “big toe” and rigidus means “rigid.” The pain occurs at the base of the big toe, however, as reported by Total Food Service Publication, hallux rigidus can also cause problems in other parts of the body–-pain in the hips, ankles and knees—and can lead to osteoarthritis. It starts as hallux limitus (limited movement in the toe) and is progressive.


Plantar Fasciitis—involves the tendons running from the back of the heel to each toe. The tendons can snap and then the arch of foot drops.  Things get worse when the tendon tries to grow back to the toes.  This results in the growth of heel spurs. Plantar fasciitis sometimes requires surgically having the ligaments severed.


Morton’s Neuroma—is a painful condition affecting the ball of the foot, usually between the third and forth toe, and feels like there is a pebble in your shoe. It’s cause by a growth of tissue around one of the nerves leading to the toes.  It feels like a sharp burning pain in the ball of the foot or numbness in the toes. Treatment option include injections (corticosteroid injections or alcohol sclerosing) or surgery.


Metatarsalgia—is a painful inflammation in the metatarsal region of the foot, (the ball of the foot). It is often present with Morton’s Neuroma.


Bunions—are caused by an enlargement of the big toe joint, causing it to protrude. This results in the big toe bending toward the other toes and crowding them. The joint, called the MTP joint, (or metatarsophalangeal joint) helps the foot bear and distribute weight. Damage to the MTP effects biomechanics of the whole foot and can lead to further damage to the other toes, development of corns, calluses, hammertoes. Finding shoes becomes challenging. Even walking become difficult.


There are some things chefs and culinary workers can do to prevent the development of “Chef’s Foot”.  Feet are often one of the most neglected and abused parts of the body, but they’re essential for healthy support and movement. Here are some suggestions for people who work long hours that involve lots of standing:


  • Get high quality shoes made for chefs. (Don’t ever wear tennis shoes while working.)
  • Change shoes halfway through the day. (Change from one good pair of chef shoes to another good pair.)
  • Sit when you can at work.
  • When doing repetitive stationary movement use a small stool and put one leg up on I, which helps circulation.
  • When you’re not at work, walk. The biomechanics of walking strengthens the foot muscles.
  • Soak your feet (in Epsom salts) at night.
  • Try orthotics. (Though they can cost several hundred dollars, many chefs claim it is worth it).
  • Get a foot massage.
  • Dr. Melissa West recommends yoga for people who stand all day.
  • Don’t become overweight. It puts excess strain on ligaments, muscles and joints in the foot.
  • Do foot stretches.  (The toe stretch good for hammer toes and bunions. The ankle/calf stretch with a band helps plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Lunges stretch the Achilles and plantar fascia of foot.)

What should you look for in a good shoe?

Chefs shoes have an orthopedically carved wooden base that supports and distributes weight evenly through the foot. This reduces foot strain and back strain. A rocker sole will take the pressure off the forefoot (giving relief for bunions, metatarsalgia and hallix limitus). Ample room for your toes allows for better balance and improved circulation in the feet. Certified, non-skid outsoles made of shock absorbing polyurethane are a must. Don’t choose a shoe with open places where hot oil spatters could land. A deep heel cup promotes spine alignment.  


Do your feet say anything about you other than that you’re a chef who’s been standing too long?  According to a the Family Foot Center’s great infographic, they do: High arches mean that you’re independent and intellectual.  Flat feet mean you’re a realist. Big feet indicate a decisive leader; a long second toe means that you’re opinionated. Check out their infographic for some fun foot factoids to ponder.


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