Nurse with back pain

A common health complaint among nurses and therapists is back pain, which is often caused by incorrect lifting and moving of patients. For these caregivers, practising the right body ergonomics can go a long way towards both avoiding back pain and finding relief from it.

Below we cover the ways in which caregivers can avoid discomfort and injury by ensuring correct body posture and body ergonomics.

How do I avoid back pain and protect my body when moving, mobilising or stabilising a patient?

Nursing is one of the top 10 occupations most likely to cause injury to joints and muscles. In fact, of all the nurses who leave the profession, 12% do so as a result of back pain, while an alarming 48% say that they experience chronic back pain.

However, practising the basic principles below when lifting patients can aid in alleviating the condition, and may even help you to avoid back pain in future:

  • Always warm up your arms, shoulders, neck and legs before you start work by doing range-of-motion exercises (such as shoulder rolls, arm and elbow stretches and hamstring stretches).
  • Maintain good posture at all times, and always try to maintain the natural curve of your spine.
  • Always lift with your quads. These long, strong muscles in your thighs can bear a lot of weight, and will relieve your back and spine of burden.
  • Never bend at the waist and extend your upper body to lift a patient, as this can damage your spine’s alignment, and it also forces the spine to bear your own weight, as well as the weight of the patient.
  • Bend at the knees instead of the waist. This moves the weight to your quads, which are better equipped to handle a heavy load.
  • Hold the patient close to you when moving him or her, in order to maintain your centre of gravity.
  • Always lower a bed-rail – never work over it.
  • Assess the patient’s abilities prior to moving him or her, bearing in mind that a patient’s abilities can change from day to day, or even hour to hour.

How do I use my body correctly while still protecting the patient?

Along with practising the tips above for your own safety, it’s important to handle the patient correctly too, in order to protect their bodies from injury. Follow the tips below to protect patients during handling:

  • Before handling the patient, let him or her know what you are planning to do, so that he or she is prepared to be moved or lifted.
  • It takes two people to move a patient in bed, so when undertaking this task, always enlist the help of a co-worker or aide to avoid injury to yourself and the patient.
  • Remember that the bones of elderly patients may be very fragile. Never grasp an elderly person’s long bones across the shaft when moving, supporting or transferring him or her.
  • Always remember to return the bed to a safe height for the patient, which is usually the lowest height.
  • Always ensure that bed-rails are in place to prevent patients from falling out of bed.
  • Collect all your supplies prior to moving the patient, so that you can complete the manoeuvre without having to leave the patient’s side. Never leave a patient unattended in a vulnerable position, such as balanced on the edge of a bed.
  • Always be safe rather than sorry – which means using a patient lift or calling a colleague when necessary.

If you would like to know more about safe patient handling, visit our site to find out more about our training courses for caregivers.