Healthy Backs for Healthcare Providers

As healthcare providers, we can sometimes be so busy providing care for others that our own health goes on the back burner… that is until we can’t ignore it anymore. It can be difficult to work while dealing with an injury, and you know more than anyone that prevention is the best medicine!


Nurses and Personal Support Workers


Nurses and Personal Support Workers face similar challenges as the greatest risk of injury occurs during patient transfer.


If it is available to you, use lift and transfer equipment whenever possible. If you need a hand, ask for help from a colleague. Getting help isn’t always possible, but it is safer to transfer with two people. If you can, offer assistance to your peers.


If you are lifting a patient/client on your own, ensure that your feet are flat on the floor and shoulder width apart. Adopt a “fencer’s stance” if possible (one foot in front of the other) for more stability and keep your toes pointing in the direction of the weight you are lifting. Keep your knees bent to allow your legs to help lift. Remember to keep the weight close to your body and avoid reaching forward. Avoid twisting your spine while lifting. If you need to turn, move your feet instead. Avoid using sudden/jerky movements; lift smoothly. It can be helpful to talk the patient/client through what you’re doing as that can make them more cooperative.


If you are repositioning a patient/client in the bed, use a pushing motion instead of pulling whenever possible. Push with your body, not just your arm strength. Keep your elbows bent and close to your body. 


Always wear supportive shoes and watch out for fall risks for yourself and your patients/clients. Maintain good posture throughout your workday, whether it’s while charting or caring for a patient/client. Vary your tasks throughout the day to engage different muscle groups. 




Unlike the first category, injuries in surgeons are usually of a repetitive strain nature – tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, thumb arthritis, neck and low back pain from prolonged standing and looking down at the operating field. 


Each specialty presents different challenges, but here are some general guidelines to reduce mechanical stressors on you body while in the operating room(1):


  • Table height

Proper table height can decrease the strain on the back muscles, promote better posture, and minimize the need to lean or reach over. For precise tasks such as soft tissue dissection, position the operating table to be about 5 cm above elbow height. For light work such as suturing, position the table 5-10 cm below elbow height. For heavy tasks that require more force, it is recommended to position the table 20-40 cm below elbow height.


  • Patient positioning

The patient should be placed as close as possible to the surgeon. Tilting the bed towards the surgeon can also help with maximizing the operative field visualization and minimizing the need to lean or bend over the patient. 


  • Neutral joint positioning

To minimize muscle and joint fatigue, maintain neutral joint posture for as much of the procedure as possible. This includes your spine, as well as your shoulders and wrists. For the elbows, as mentioned above, this can vary according to the type of task you are doing.


  • Footwear, anti-fatigue mats, and footrests

Avoid flat shoes. Choose footwear with good arch support, toe freedom, and a heel between 1 and 2.5 cm. Anti-fatigue mats are also helpful, but use with caution as they can present a tripping hazard. Alternating resting your foot on a footrest while standing can also be helpful in reducing strain on your low back.


For all healthcare professionals, your self-care must be a priority. Getting good sleep helps your body recover from the physical stressors of the day, and maintaining a consistent stretching and strengthening routine helps to keep your muscles and joints healthy. Did you know that our chiropractors, physiotherapists, and massage therapists can provide personalized exercise recommendations? Contact us to book your appointment with our collaborative healthcare team!


From our team at CURAVITA, an extra special thank you to all frontline workers!


  1. Improving ergonomics in the operating room for orthopaedic surgeons in order to reduce work-related musculoskeletal injuries