Nurses and Back Pain

Many professions innately cause workplace injuries or lead to back pain, but one position stands above the rest. Nursing is notoriously hard on the back and creates a unique challenge for those in the profession. In fact, problems suffered while nursing are the second most leading cause of the non fatal injuries suffered by workers in the United States.

So, how does a profession dedicated to the helping and healing of others become so painful? Static workloads, patient transfers and heaving and lifting all combine to contribute to the pain felt by many nurses. All nursing sectors are prone to back pain, with community nurses suffering the most. Community nurses are also more likely to continue with their workload despite the pain. This causes a drop in efficiency and results.


Nurses that work in the ICU are also very prone to back problems. These nurses often deal with patients that have lost consciousness. These patients present a unique challenge as they cannot do anything for themselves. ICU nurses make more frequent rounds to ensure patients receive any needed treatment. They also must do all of the patient movement on their own. The patient is not awake to help with any part of the process, causing them to become extremely hard to move. These patients must also be moved or turned every few hours so that bed sores do not appear. The number of patients turned multiplied by the two hour turn over frequency, creates an atmosphere ripe with the possibility of back pain and problems.

Transferring patients and making up patient beds is really hard on a nurse’s back. This is compounded by the fact that a nurse repeats these actions multiple times during a day, for days on end. Typically, nurses may find themselves lifting an average of twenty patients daily. This is in addition to moving an average eight patients from their bed to a chair and back. This movement is worsened by the weight of the patient, which typically exceeds 100 pounds. This surpasses what other professions would consider to be allowable, especially at this rate of occurrence.

Nurses can work to prevent this needless pain. A gait belt will assist the nurse while performing a patient transfer or walking during rounds. Nurses are always on the go, so extra support is crucial. The nurse should also use the correct equipment for the task being performed. A shortcut now will only lead to pain problems later. Patient bed height should be adjusted appropriately so that the nurse is as close to perfect posture as possible. Back belts, adequate staff numbers and proper planning are also key.

Beyond what the nurses can do to prevent back problems, patients can help as well. If possible, nurses should allow patients to carry more of their own weight using such devices as walkers and hand rails. The more weight the patient applies to the rail or walker, the less weight there is to apply to the nurse’s back. Any small step can lead to big change.

Filed Under: Back Pain
Written By:  Updated:
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Jesse Cannone, CFT, CPRS, MFT

Jesse is the co-founder and visionary CEO of The Healthy Back Institute®, the world-leading source of natural back pain solutions. His mission as a former back pain sufferer is to help others live pain free without surgery and pharmaceuticals.

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