Helping Nurses Avoid Work Injury and Back Pain

Critical-care nurses are at greater risk of musculoskeletal injuries than many other occupations, and it isn't hard to see why. Handling and lifting patients of various sizes is bound to put strain on the muscles in the low-back, neck, shoulder, and arms. Work injuries in these areas are a significant danger for many nurses.

To alleviate at least some of the risk and increase worker safety, many hospitals have employed lifting equipment to aide in moving patients. But how prevalent and available are these devices? And, of utmost importance for effectiveness, do working nurses really use the equipment?

A new study sought answers to these questions. Researchers mailed a cross-sectional survey to a random sample of critical nurses in the United States. Using the 361 responses, they compiled data about pain in the low-back, neck, and shoulder, lift availability and actual use, physical and psychosocial job factors, and socio-demographics.

Only 46% of the nurses reported that their employer provided lifting equipment. Of the 168 respondents who had lifts in their workplace, the level of availability was high for about 60%, medium for 25%, and low for 14%.

Sometimes a hectic schedule can result in even readily available safety tools to go unused. This may be the case with some of the nurses in the study. The respondents reported the level of lift use, which was high for 32%, medium for 31.5%, and low for 31.5%.

How did the availability and use of lifting equipment affect work injury rates? Nurses without lifts were twice as likely to report work-related back pain than nurses who reported high lift availability. Those who worked without lifts were also more than three times as likely to suffer work-related shoulder pain than nurses with even medium-level lift access. The nurses who reported a medium-level of lift use were three times less likely to have neck pain than those with a low-level lift use.

The authors of the study concluded that lifting equipment should be available and used to help critical-care nurses avoid musculoskeletal pain in the low-back, neck, and shoulders. They pinpointed the importance of making lifts readily available for hospital workers to use, as well as removing any barriers preventing lift use.

Previous research has shown chiropractic care to be effective for preventing work injury as well.


Lee SJ, Faucett J, Gillen M, Krause N. Musculoskeletal pain among critical-care nurses by availability and use of patient lifting equipment: An analysis of cross-sectional survey data. International Journal of Nursing Studies May 3 2013. doi:10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2013.03.010. [Epub ahead of print].