The Best Tips You Can Give Your Medical Staff About Preventing Back Pain and Injury

According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, hospital-based nursing personnel (RNs, nursing aides, orderlies, and assistants) suffer more debilitating and career-ending musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) than all other occupations nation-wide. Surprisingly, this profession is at greater risk for back injury than construction workers, freight handlers, and material movers!   Overexertion associated with repeatedly lifting, repositioning, and transferring patients manually is the reason why.

More unsettling facts

  • The physical demands of the job are so great that 50% of all nurses have considered leaving the profession; that number increases to 60% for nurses with job-related pain or injury.
  • Despite back pain or injury, many nurses continue working. As a result, they may be less productive, less attentive, more susceptible to further injury, and more likely to compromise the comfort and safety of their patients.
  • Direct and indirect costs associated with on-the-job back injury, such as disability compensation, medical claims, litigation, absenteeism, turnover, training, and lower worker productivity are estimated at $20 billion annually.

The 3 most important tips you can give your nursing staff to minimize their potential for on-the-job MSDs


Emphasize that there is no 100% safe way to manually lift a patient.

More than 30 years of research and experience proves that proper body mechanics (e.g. maintaining a neutral spine by hinging from the hips) will not reduce back and musculoskeletal injuries.  Proper manual lifting techniques might work well for hoisting a stationary box of scrubs onto a high shelf, but most patient handling involves lateral transfers from gurney to bed along a horizontal plane.  In these instances, the weight, size, and oftentimes jerky movements of patients increases your staff’s vulnerability to back strain.

Tell them not to be martyrs!

Most nurses wholeheartedly believe they must put the patient’s safety before their own. It’s time to shift this mindset. Emphasize that injuring their back in the line of duty is not a requirement of the job.

Reinforce the importance of relying on mechanical lifting equipment.

  • Lifting devices are ergonomic. The equipment (e.g. motorized ceiling lifts, portable lifts, and transfer boards) is designed to match the capabilities and limitations of the human body.  Although your workers  might still need to manually move, steady, and position a patient while using these devices, the equipment is doing most of the heavy work which is a huge benefit considering that debilitating back injuries result from the cumulative effects of moving patients manually.
  • Using lifting devices is quicker than manual moving. It typically takes about 5 minutes less to find and use mechanical lifting equipment than it does to round up a team of coworkers to help lift a patient manually.
  • Safer caregivers make happier patients. Some nursing personnel believe that patients are distressed by lifting devices. Quite the opposite. Studies show that patients feel more comfortable, secure, respected, and autonomous when caregivers use lifting equipment. In fact, using mechanical lifting devices results in fewer patient falls, bruises, and skin tears.

Additional Tips

  • Emphasize the importance of staying in shape. Although proper body mechanics alone won’t prevent back injury, nurses who maintain muscle strength, core stability, flexibility, and normal weight will minimize their potential for MSDs.
  • Highlight the importance of wearing comfortable shoes that are good shock absorbers.
  • Encourage your nursing staff to take frequent short breaks throughout the day and practice muscle relaxation techniques as much as possible.
  • If chronic back pain interferes with nursing tasks, advise them to look for alternative options in the workplace. Switching specialties or settings within the hospital—either temporarily or for the long run–is a viable solution.

If you are looking for more ways to educate your staff and address important issues in the workplace, rely on BOS Medical Staffing to source the most relevant and up-to-the minute information in the healthcare pipeline.  Since 2008, BOS Medical Staffing has brought talented nurses, therapists and medical administrators together with top facilities.  Contact BOS Medical today to talk about customized staffing solutions.

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