Lifting Safety: Preventing back injuries when lifting patients
You know you’re a nurse when you have complained of having an aching back at least once in your career. Nursing personnel, compared to other professions are among the highest at risk for musculoskeletal disorders.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs are at the sixth in a list of at-risk occupations for strains and sprains that included nursing personnel, with nursing aides, orderlies and attendants (first); truck drivers (second); laborers (third); stock handlers and baggers (seventh); and construction workers (eighth).
In the year 2000, estimates show that the incidence rate for back injuries involving lost work days was 181.6 per 10,000 full-time workers in nursing homes and 90.1 per 10,000 full-time workers in hospitals, while incidence rates were 98.4 for truck drivers, 70.0 for construction workers, 56.3 for miners, and 47.1 for agriculture workers.
Lower back injuries are also noted as the most costly musculoskeletal disorder affecting workers. Studies of back-related workers compensation claims reveal that nursing personnel have the highest claim rates of any occupation or industry.
Furthermore, nearly half of nurses have considered leaving the nursing due to job’s physical demands and for nurses with job-related pain or injuries, that number jumps to nearly 60 percent.
Use proper body mechanics
We have heard this about dozens of times already in nursing school, but the use of proper body mechanics when performing nursing interventions is a must. According to Scott Howell, PA-C, of the Florida Back Institute, “improper lifting or transfer techniques are prime culprits behind nurses’ back woes.”
Also, according to him, nurses should bend at their knees, using their legs and not their backs. And while transferring patients, nurses should use transfer boards and assistance from a second individual
While according toRick Kassler, MSPT, OCS, supervisor at the Orthopaedic and Sports Therapy Center at the New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases, nurses should keep the objects or patients they’re lifting as close to their midsections (centers of gravity) as possible.
“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 adds.
To reduce chances of injury, when transferring patients, caregivers should:
- Make sure that feet are stable, and as close as possible to the person being lifted.
- Face the person to be lifted, slightly bend the knees and squat in preparation to lift. Hold in the abdominals and keep the back straight. This will add lifting strength and encourage additional power from legs and arms.
- Maintain a position as close to the person as possible so that excess strain is not placed on the back by leaning over.
- When turning a loved one from back to side, distribute weight equally between feet and try to avoid extended forward bending movements as much as possible.
- Point feet toward the person being lifted. If possible, place one foot in between the person’s feet and one foot to the outside for optimal stability.
- Attempt to lift using a smooth, flowing motion, pushing upward with leg muscles.
Be fit. Stay in shape
While observing proper body mechanics in the performance of certain tasks is important, it is also important to note that nurses who maintain muscle strength, flexibility and normal weight are less likely to get hurt
According to Richard H. Haglen, MSPT, CSCS, a Boca Raton, Florida, physical therapist, “nurses should consult with a physical therapist to learn proper body mechanics and good lifting technique as well as to learn trunk stability exercises that could help prevent injuries.”
Wear comfortable and good shoes
Another tip from Kassler is to wear a good pair of shoes to work. “Prolonged standing and walking on hard floors puts stress on the back. Comfortable shoes that are good shock absorbers can help,” he says.
Not only that, good shoes promote good posture and stability especially on hospital floors.
Let your patients know
It is important that you keep your patient informed as of what you are doing to lift or turn them, toreduce any anxiety as well as to put both you and your patient at ease.
Ergonomics helps to prevent injuries by identifying and alleviating risk factors that put strain on the body in a wide variety of occupations. It is practiced not only in lifting, but in all aspects of home health care, including performing ordinary household tasks like laundry and cleaning, to helping a loved one bathe or dress.
Injuries can be alleviated by the use of:
- Grab bars and toilet seat risers in the bathroom
- Adjustable shower benches or chairs designed for bathtub use
- Adequate activity planning to reduce the number of transfers needed
- Proper training in positioning and ergonomic lifting procedures
Identifying risk factors for injury include:
- The effort that is required to move a person
- The posture of the person performing the task
- The position of the person’s center of gravity in relation to the person transferring or lifting them
- The number of times a person must be moved, turned, or lifted on a daily basis
- The ability of the person to help with transfers
- The physical ability of the caregiver to facilitate such transfers
Advocate for Proper Technology. Get trained
According to Daniel Kerls, MBA, OTR/L, senior project specialist at MGH, “one should seek employers that offer the technology necessary to decrease the risk of an on-the-job injury.” It brings about longevity in the profession, he adds.
Additionally, proper training in the usage of equipment is a must since knowing how to use the lift and transfer devices will avoid injury both to the patient and the nurse.
As people belonging to a profession which takes care of others, we should also learn to take care of ourselves. It’s time that we practice what we preach to our patients.