As a nurse, your job is to care for patients. The last thing you want to do is become one.

But, that’s what happens to many nurses due to on-the-job back injuries. Believe it or not, nurses suffer from work-related low back pain more often than workers in other professions.1

In fact, a study by the University of Alberta's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine found 65 percent of orthopedic nurses and 58 percent of ICU nurses develop debilitating low back pain at some point in their careers. The injuries are often due to common nursing activities such as lateral transfers, ambulating, repositioning, and manipulating.

If you’re a nurse with back pain—or want to avoid being one—focus on ways to protect and care for your back. Adopt some new habits such as:

Using appropriate lifting and bending technique 

You’ve probably heard it for years, but it’s still good advice: lift with your legs, not with your back. Using the proper technique when you are lifting heavy items, or bending over to assist patients is one of the best ways to avoid a debilitating back injury. WebMD has identified the key technique for lifting heavy items, and bending over.

Avoiding overuse and repetitive situations

When caring for patients, it’s common to perform repetitive tasks. Repeated repositionings in bed and numerous transfers to and from beds, chairs, or commodes can really wear on your muscles.

If you notice that telltale “twinge” in your back or that you’re having trouble getting back to a standing position, it may be time to rethink how you’re working. Perhaps a colleague or family caregiver can lend a hand. Maybe there’s a way to mix it up so you’re not always doing the same things.

If you make your nurse manager aware, she should be able to help you figure out ways to minimize the overuse and make adjustments. 

Applying heat and cold therapy

Consider unwinding after a long day in a whirlpool or warm bath. The heat can help to relax the muscles around the lower back and provide relief. If you’re having muscle spasms—from mild discomfort to more severe—consider alternating heat with cold packs. Localized cooling shuts down capillaries and reduces blood flow to the area, which helps ease the swelling and resulting pain. Learn more about the proper hot and cold therapy technique here.

Getting a good night’s sleep

Sleep is a time to repair muscles and swollen joints. Be sure to stay to a schedule and get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Your sleeping position can make all the difference, too, taking the strain off your back. If you sleep on your side, draw your legs up slightly toward your chest and put a pillow between your legs. Some people like to use a full-length body pillow. Try it!

Wearing the right shoes

One key factor in back support for nurses is wearing the right shoes. With so many choices, here are some things to consider:

  • Weight—Lighter shoes will make it easier to walk around; heavy and/or clunky shoes can make it feel like you’re dragging yourself around during the day
  • Comfort—That seems obvious, doesn’t it? Make sure the shoes fit well and are comfortable for long shifts. Many nurses prefer clogs such as Dansko
  • Support and stability—Select shoes that offer excellent ankle and back support. Evaluate factors such as the shoe’s heel height, shape, construction/design, and material.
  • Slip resistance—Taking a tumble can be worst thing for your back, as well as just about every other part of your body. Select one that has good traction.
  • Design and shape—This is personal preference, but don’t trade comfort for style. (And what kind of style are we talking about here? It’s not like you’re going to wear them with a cocktail dress.)
  • Personal needs—Do you have a wide foot, bunions, flat feet, or other issues that affect the type of shoes you need? If so, perhaps you should check with your doctor or podiatrist first.

Core-building exercises

You don’t need a six-pack to have a strong core, but when your core muscles are in poor condition, you are at greater risk of injury. That’s because additional stress is applied to the spine as it supports the body. Consider adding some of these core-strengthening exercises into to your routine.

Taking care of your back will help keep you in the business of being a nurse—instead of a needing one.

A Home Health Care Agency

 1 https://www.osha.gov/dsg/hospitals/documents/1.1_Data_highlights_508.pdf