Nursing Self Care and prevention of back injuries

Nursing Self Care and prevention of back injuries


Any nurse will agree that the risk of back injury in their profession is very real.  Floor nursing comes with its own set of stressors but lifting and pulling up patients in bed can cause serious harm to the lower back and spine.


According to the American Journal of Critical Care over 38% of nursing staff across the United States suffered debilitating back injuries in 2003.  The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that nurses in private industry took approximately 20,000 days off from work throughout the United States due to back and other related work injuries.  If these statistics aren’t staggering enough the BLS also reported that nurses have a 104 chance out of 10,000 to experience a work-related injury.  These statistics indicate that nursing related injuries are the highest of most other professions with Women’s MMA being excluded.


No nurse wants to be sidelined from their profession due to agonizing back pain and immobility, which is why this topic is so important for nurses.  Nurses must take great care in practicing lifting hygiene.

Injuries related to improper lifting

Improper lifting of heavy patients increases intra-abdominal pressure which can translate into the risk of prolapsed internal genitals and lower spine injury.   Add to this milieu medications such as NSAID’s and poor dietary habits and you have the perfect storm for the beginnings of osteoporosis.  Common injuries found among nurses include lower back strain, L4 and L5 herniations and sciatic nerve damage.

As teachers and care givers nurses provide the best advice to their patients but rarely listen to their own advice.  Nurses should pay close attention to the red flags when they begin to feel lower back pain.  An easy method is to use the SOCRATES pain tool.  This addresses eight features of pain which are, Site, Onset, Characteristic, Radiation, Associated factors, Timing, Exacerbating Factors and Severity.  Many nurses are familiar with the OLD CARTS method which is also applicable.

As care givers it is important to also provide care to ourselves.  Taking time to evaluate aches and pains should be a daily requirement for nurses.  Nurses should ask themselves what they can do differently on their shift to lower their chances of injuring their back.

The key is to know when to recognize that there is a problem before the pain becomes too intense or causes long term damage.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), self-care is defined as “what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness.”

Let’s review some of the basics of nursing self-care.

  1. Know when to rest
  2. know when to ask for help (whether it is job related or personal)
  3. know how to relax
  4. know how to process stress, emotions and frustration
  5. know how to lift, when to lift and when not to lift.
  6. know when to say, No!


Don’t forget what stress can do to the body!  Stress hormones produce cortisol.  Cortisol also lowers the body’s ability to fight infections by lowering immunity.  Stress can also cause lipids to accumulate to in the arterioles which can lead to atherosclerosis.  Lowered immunity can also cause injured muscles to heal more slowly, thus making re-injury to the site lower to heal.



Basic proper lifting review.

  • Stand with your feet about 2 feet or so apart
  • Squat down, bending at the hips and knees only
  • Keep your back straight.
  • Slowly lift by straightening your hips and knees (not your back)
  • Hold the load as close to your body as possible


Factors that can exacerbate back pain


Nurses work unceasingly.  They come to work when they are sick, tired, in pain or if their world is falling apart.  Nobel indeed.  But healthy?  Not so much.  If the hospital provides mental health days or sick days, take those days provided.  Many nurses forgo their sick time to earn more money for noble causes, such as daycare, school supplies and bills.  What they need to remember is that they, themselves are also a noble cause and must receive care as well.

To have a long fulfilling career in nursing, it is important that the nurse takes care of themselves. Good lifting techniques and proper attention to self-care can provide nurses with a longevity of helping others.



If you would like to learn more about Phlebotomy Career Training and the courses that are offered through our school please visit;

We are located at 28050 Ford Rd. Ste B

Garden City, MI 48135

Our phone is: 734-762-3220

Fax: 734-762-1718

Whether you would like to take online classes or in person classes, we have the program for you.


Nancy Lydia Kimmel is a MSN Board Certified Nurse Practitioner in Michigan and teaches classes at Phlebotomy Career Training Center.