Researchers aim to give nurses a lift

Nurses offer care and comfort, but they often end up with a pain in the back for their efforts, the results of a new study show.

"Nurses suffer from work-related low back pain more often than workers in other professions," said Edgar Vieira, a doctoral student in the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine and lead author of the study.

Most often, nurses hurt their backs while turning bed-ridden patients or transferring them among stretchers, beds and chairs, Vieira said, adding that orthopedic and intensive care unit (ICU) nurses have the highest rates of low back pain among all nurses. According to the study, 65 per cent of orthopedic nurses and 58 per cent of ICU nurses develop debilitating low back pain at some point in their careers.

"If a patient is unconscious, nurses will try to turn him every two hours or so to prevent him from getting bed sores. If you consider that nurses often work 12 hours shifts, the amount of lifting in one shift adds up a lot, and you can see how the job could be very hard to manage physically," said Vieira.

However, Vieira believes a few simple changes may prevent nurses from sustaining injuries. For example, providing nursing with access to more mechanical lifting devices would help reduce the risks, he said, adding that mechanical lifting devices are currently used only about 15 per cent of the time.

"Also, hospital rooms are often small, and nurses have to move furniture around so that they can do their jobs--most of the time lifting devices wouldn't even fit in these rooms," added Vieira, whose study appeared this month in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

Providing bigger, uncluttered rooms to work in would help nurses, as would hiring more staff to share the workload, Vieira said.

Preventing work related low back pain is a humanitarian issue, and efforts to address the controllable risk factors are essential, Vieira said. He also noted that such injuries incur a great expense to taxpayers.

"Most individuals that suffer low back pain carry on with their normal activities after a few days, but in about seven per cent of cases, the pain persists and worsens, limiting daily activity and work. About 70 per cent of worker compensation costs are generated by the cases in which the absence from work lasts six months or longer. So, the best thing for everyone is to prevent disabilities, and the best way to do this is to prevent causation of the injuries.

"We hope we can raise awareness of this problem by improving working conditions and educating nurses about how to reduce the number of work-related low back pain injuries that they suffer, because right now the incidences of it are way too high," Vieira said.

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Edgar Vieira can be reached at 780-492-7187 or evieira@ualberta.ca.


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