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

Contact: Ryan Smith
University of Alberta

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