A Nurse’s Guide on Preventing Career–Ending Back Problems

Nursing can be extremely demanding on a physical level. Healthcare professionals spend long and grueling hours on their feet as they perform life saving care. Nurses are also expected to lift and transfer patients onto their wheelchairs/beds or transfer equipment from room to room. It is no surprise that—per the American Nurses Association–nurses rank fifth among all occupations in risk of strains and sprains. Left unchecked, these injuries can pose a serious threat to a staff nurse’s health. In some cases, nurses are even hurt into an early retirement. Thankfully, this can all be avoidable. With the right habits and support, you can preserve your body and increase your chances of a long, fruitful career. In this article, we will go over a number of good ways to prevent severe work-related back injuries.

Practice body mechanics

Poor body mechanics are a common catalyst for back injuries in healthcare jobs. Improving your body mechanics from top to bottom helps you prevent this while making physical tasks a little easier at the same time. Before a nurse or nurse assistant does anything strenuous, set your feet into a solid base slightly wider than their hips as they bend at their knees. Use the energy from your legs to lift, instead of your back.

Proper posture is also important for any healthcare professional. As you lift or bend, hold your shoulders back and keep your head upright to maintain a neutral spine. To do this, you need to bend or “hinge” from the hips, instead of the back. As you lift, you want to keep the object or your patient close to your center of gravity (or midsection) in order to minimize the forces at play.

Know your limits

Say you are a per diem nurse looking towards full integration, or a full time nurse eyeing a salary raise. In this case, you may be compelled to do some extra work in order to meet your goals. No matter how hard you try, some people or devices will simply be too heavy for you. Forcing any nurse assistant to shoulder such a burden is the perfect way to herniate one’s disc. Instead of injuring yourself, you can either use transfer boards or ask help from a teammate or fellow staff nurses. Remember that you are part of a team of capable fellow nurses who should be more than happy to lend a hand.

Regular exercise

Healthy healthcare professionals avoid injuries better. Stronger, more flexible muscles help you handle the rigors of an average nursing shift. At the minimum, you want to reach some minimum level of physical fitness. In particular, leg exercises and trunk stability workouts will give nurse assistants the base and the strength to maintain proper posture as you lift and carry things. Applying for a gym membership, employing a physical therapist or committing to your own garage workout routine are two very good ways to get fit for the workplace.

Better available technology

This is a solution that would require proper support and implementation from nursing facilities. Assistive lift technologies reduce the physical burden of healthcare jobs and greatly lowers injury rates as a result. This includes ceiling lifts, stand-up lifts, electronic transfer devices and other more advanced equipment. The American Nurses Association also recommends that nurses be involved in the process of choosing the right equipment. If your chosen facility has little to no such equipment available, consider bringing it up to HR or advocating for its use. Added costs are worth less injuries to staff nurses, in the long run.

Report any injuries immediately

Healthcare professionals can do everything in your power to avoid a back injury, but sometimes it is out of your control. Do not be afraid to notify your employer as soon as possible. Employers are responsible for taking care of their staffed nurses and your reports can set a precedent to avoid these events in the future. Even before anything happens, you want to contact your state’s or employer’s health department to inquire on their policies. Some places require that injuries be reported within 24 hours, while others do not. In most cases, you can even file a worker’s compensation claim from your employer. Keep in mind that this can only be availed within 30 days between the injury and the filing of the claim itself.

Nurses deserve the best

Everyday, nurses and nursing assistants work tirelessly to protect the ill, the battered and the broken. Healthcare jobs come with both a heavy physical and mental toll, and this damage can add up. An increased awareness of the importance of body mechanics and fitness can go a long way in preventing unnecessary injuries in the future. Nurses also require crucial support from their co-workers, their facilities and the government itself. By addressing the problem before it can get worse, we ensure that the future of the healthcare industry remains as bright as possible.