Nursing and Back Pain
Further studies of back injuries and work related back pain and their relation to the physical demands of nursing have divided nurses into two categories; nurses who work in healthcare institutions such as hospitals and nurses who work in the community in nursing homes or as private duty nurses. Nurses working in hospitals showed a lower incidence of musculoskeletal disorders and back pain than community nurses, where there is a greater prevalence of manual handling of patients.
The two main factors contributing to back injury or pain for healthcare professionals are lifting /transferring patients and bed-making, so it is no surprise that the highest risk of back injury for nurses is on orthopedic floors, in operating rooms and emergency rooms. The typical patient weigh a minimum of 100 pounds. Transferring patients from bed to wheelchairs or commodes singlehanded constitutes a load level that far exceeds the weight level considered safe for industrial workers to handle. Bed-making is a simple task that if not performed with caution also increases the risk of back injury due to the level of awkward stretching and bending involved.
In recent years hospitals have instituted training programs and updated equipment to help reduce occupational back injury. The use of lifting apparatus such as gait belts, Hoyer lifts and sliding boards to help move patients from one location to another serves to lessen the risk of back injury during transfer. On-going training for nurses and other healthcare workers in the correct use of lifting aids and the proper body posture during bending, lifting and twisting helps reduce time and productivity lost due to injury.
Maintaining adequate staffing levels at all times helps insure that there will be an adequate number of people available to help with difficult lifts and patient transfers. Also, adequate staffing levels help decrease nurse fatigue. Many occupational injuries occur when staffed is either too rushed or too fatigued to practice safe lifting and transferring procedures.
While many nurses continue to work with back injury and back pain, this often results in reduced productivity at the work site through a loss of efficiency and expediency. Patient care can suffer as a result. When back pain or injury is so severe as to result in the nurse having to stay home from work the recuperation period can be lengthy.
One of the biggest problems for nurses recovering from a back injury is having to repeat the motion that caused the initial injury once the nurse returns to her duties. Rarely is a nurse able to return to her job with a note that says "no lifting or bending for 4 weeks". The result is a nurse, who although feeling better and able to comfortably walk and sit, is seriously at risk for chronic re-injury if a return to work includes lifting and transferring.
Muscular stretching and toning is an important part of the healing process for back injuries; once a back injury has occurred a serious strength and training routine for the back should be faithfully followed as soon as the back is no longer irritated. Muscular strengthening exercises will be important once the back irritation has subsided. Back strengthening exercises help to build stability in weak tissue Nurses are supreme care-givers and that care should also be extended to their own bodies in order to maintain an injury-free life.
One simple, but important way, to help prevent injury on the job is to wear a nursing shoe with a broad heel for good stability and good support through the arches. A tie shoe that can be tightened with the laces as the shoe stretches is ideal. Comfort should be a priority when choosing shoes. Nursing shoes with run down heels should be replaced as they can result in improper alignment of ankles, knees and hips, making the body more susceptible to injury.
Training classes, lifting and transferring aids, adequate staffing, nursing shoes and a good strength training program are positive aids in reducing occupational injuries. With a little effort it is possible for nurses to remain injury-free and enjoy the rewards of their profession.
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Author: Sally Ryan
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