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Avoiding Back Injuries in Nursing

Avoiding Back Injuries in Nursing

Lisette Hilton | Monster Contributing Writer

September 30, 2008

Nursing, especially in the hospital setting, is physically demanding — and nurses’ backs bear the brunt of their jobs.

Just how prevalent are back problems in nursing? According to an American Nurses Association fact sheet:

• RNs ranked sixth among occupations most at risk for strains and sprains — higher than stock handlers and construction workers.

• Studies of back-related workers’ compensation claims reveal that nurses have the highest claim rates of any occupation or industry.

• More than half of nurses complain of chronic back pain. Back pain has caused 20 percent of nurses to transfer to different jobs and 12 percent to leave the profession altogether.

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Improper lifting or transfer techniques are prime culprits behind nurses’ back woes, says Scott Howell, PA-C, of the Florida Back Institute. Boosting patients from lying to sitting and the quick movements needed to keep a patient from falling can also cause injury, according to Jill Taylor Pedro, RN, MSN, a clinical nurse specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

There’s no way to completely avoid these motions, but there are things you can do to lessen the threat of career-ending back pain.

Use Good Body Mechanics

“For lifting, nurses should bend at their knees, using their legs and not their backs,” says Howell, who specializes in orthopedic spine issues. “While transferring patients, nurses should use transfer boards and assistance from a second individual.”

Rick Kassler, MSPT, OCS, supervisor at the Orthopaedic and Sports Therapy Center at the New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases, adds nurses should keep the objects or patients they’re lifting as close to their midsections (centers of gravity) as possible.

Maintain the back in a neutral position that preserves its natural curves, Kassler says. “The key to maintaining a neutral spine when bending forward or lifting is to bend or ‘hinge’ from the hips, not from the back,” he says.

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