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Monday, November 29, 2021  

Nursing and back safetyPublished 10/27/2003

Did you know that nurses have the highest rate of disability claims of all professions combined? Did you also know that nurses have the highest rate of back problems than all professions combined? Well, did you also know that both are preventable?

The American Nurses Association (ANA) has initiated a new campaign aimed at nurses to promote better back health. The program is referred to as, "handle with care" and its focus is on increasing awareness among health care organizations from specialty nursing areas to academic institutions. Musculoskeletal health and related care have always been taught in nursing programs and have been covered in orientation proceedings in hospitals and other health care settings. So why are musculoskeletal injuries still occurring? It is no secret that we are in the midst of a nursing shortage, nor is it a secret that nurses are overworked and stressed both physically and mentally. Historically we have seen cycles of nursing shortages. Work-related injuries do not always correlate higher during those shortages.

So what really is the underlying causes for increases in back injury? In exploring this issue more closely it would seem to me that the problem has several layers. In my own experience as a floor nurse I remember learning very early on that although we are told to ask for help, that help is rarely there. And, if help was available you often had to wait until that nurse was done with her own patients before she could come and help you with yours. No one wanted to wait and keep their patients in an uncomfortable situation. In addition, I remember seeing many of my seasoned colleagues lift and reposition 300 pound patients as if they were rag dolls. I would get a stern look and a lecture about using the strength in my back to lift my own patients. I felt absolutely embarrassed and inept. I started to stop asking for help and attempted to lift my patients myself. Well 12 years later I have only myself to blame for two compressions and a herniated disc.

Second, nurses and women in general have a difficult time asking for help. We are trained at an early age to do things ourselves. We watched our mothers do it all. Do you remember hearing your mother say something like, "oh I will just do it myself, it will be faster, and I know it will be done right the first time." We also live in a society surrounded by impatience. We can’t wait, because too much time might go by, and we don’t want to miss a thing!

Thirdly, there might be a physical reason why a nurse can’t lift her own patients, but because of fear of being found out, she will attempt to lift, when indeed she should not. Lastly, the facility may not have the right lifting equipment or the equipment may be defective and in need of repair. Nonetheless, in all four cases the end result can be self-injury.

In developing a program on better back it would make more sense to me to stop insulting nurses about body mechanics, which we all can recite at nausea and get to the real reasons why nurses are not asking for help when lifting patients. I have always felt that problem solving should be elevated to a holistic approach. When we look at the surface it may appear that the problem and corresponding solutions are clear. But I have also found that when problems continue to reoccur then a more microscopic evaluation is oftentimes needed. That said, yes we know that proper body mechanics is essential but I also have to believe that nurses know that and therefore the problem is at a deeper level.

So rather than cosmetically fix the problem by doing health promotion activities that raise the level of education regarding body mechanics, why not develop health promotion activities that raise the consciousness of our profession? Let’s delve into the emotional and mental factors that might lead to:

1. A nurse not wanting to ask for help in lifting a patient.

2. A nurse not wanting to help lift a patient.

3. A nurse who might feel inadequate with her own skills.

4. Fear, ridicule, anxiety.

What do you think? If you are lifting patients without help or have a back injury as a direct result of lifting without asking for help share your story here In the News!

Linda Rener is the Director of Health Career Programs at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood Colorado and the author of Medical Terminology: A Student Workbook, and Memories of My Sister: Dealing With Sudden Death.

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