Proper Body Mechanics

Nursing has the highest risk for back injuries of any profession. You must do everything possible to protect your back. Most of these injuries are preventable. Stop and think before you do something that may injure yourself. Assess the situation and get help! Never try to move a patient by yourself. You could end your hands-on nursing career with one wrong move.

Back injuries among health care workers account for approximately $1.7 billion annually in medical care and lost days. Many employers have instituted mandatory back safety programs in an effort to decrease their premiums and prevent back injuries to their employees. Some hospitals have trained lift teams to perform any lifting duties throughout the hospital.

Proper body mechanics are essential in transferring and moving patients to sitting positions in bed. Hospital beds and tables are usually on wheels, but they have safety locks. Be sure to unlock them first. Also consider the additional weight of the patient to the weight of the bed before attempting to move it. Never skip any steps even if the patient is a small child. One wrong move can cost you your job and your back. Use gait belts and draw sheets whenever possible. And always get help from another team member.

Follow these rules when lifting or transferring patients to protect your back:

  • Keep your lower back in its normal curved or arched position at all times.

  • Move as close to the bed or patient as you can.

  • Never twist; always pivot or side step.

  • When lifting, set your feet in a position to give yourself a solid, wide base of support.

  • Keep your stomach muscles tight, bow slightly at the hips, and then squat.

  • Keep your head up and hold your shoulders upright. If you held a yardstick along your back, it would be perfectly straight.

  • Push up from your knees and use your own momentum to help you lift.

  • If you do get hurt, report it right away and seek medical treatment. Early intervention is the key to successful treatment and prevention of permanent dysfunction. The trend now is to combine anti-inflammatory medications with physical therapy and as much normal activity as can be tolerated. Cumulative damage to your back can result in a very minor injury becoming the final straw that triggers a serious situation. Take care and seek treatment even for minor injuries.

    It is essential to assess the situation before you move a patient. Is the patient alert and oriented or confused and combative? How much can the patient do for himself? Compare the patient's size to yours. What do you need to do with this patient? What furniture needs to be moved to make the process safer?

    Be aware of your rights and consult an attorney if you are injured on the job. Keep a journal of all events and conversations. Be proactive and protect your body. Report dangerous situations and remind your coworkers if you see one of them using poor body mechanics. The nursing shortage is bad enough without nurses unnecessarily injuring themselves. Twelve percent of nurses leave the profession because of back injuries. If even half of the injuries can be prevented, it will go a long way toward helping to ease this crisis.

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