The Correct Way To Lift Patients...Have You Been Lied To?

Lift with your legs to protect your back. Keep your back straight when you lift and you won't be injured. Does all this sound familiar to you? That's what nurses have been told for many years.  These teachings have been  drummed into most nurses in nursing school and reiterated when we begin working.  We are taught "proper body mechanics."  and told that as long as we use them we will not be injured.  


Well, it seems we have been lied to.  As more and more research is conducted on this subject the findings may surprise you.  A recent study by NPR reveals that the only safe way to lift patients is with equipment. According to   Nursing Fundamentals, "Body mechanics is the utilization of the correct muscles to complete a task safely and efficiently. Keep your back straight. Bend at the knees and hips."  

But the director of the Spine Research Institute at The Ohio State University, William Marras says "this is why nursing staff are getting hurt lifting patients. The magnitude of these forces that are on your spine are so large that the best 'body mechanics' in the world are not going to keep you from getting back problems." 

He goes on to say that "Hospital staff can lift and move patients safely only if they stop doing it manually-with their own human strength-and use machines and other equipment instead." 

This means that nurses should be using equipment that factory workers currently use to move heavy objects. Equipment such as, ceiling hoists that put the burden of weight on mechanical equipment and not on our own fragile spines. 

In order to conduct this research study they used sophisticated tools that mimicked the human spine during the task of lifting a patient. They concluded that these actions simply cannot be carried out without the risk of injury, even if nurses team up and lift a patient together.  

Since this study federal government researchers have conducted their own studies and they have also concluded very similar results. The CDC is now in agreement with Marras' study, as is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  

Even the American Association and the United union agree with and endorse Marras' conclusion that nursing staff cannot lift patients safely without the proper equipment.  But sadly, most hospitals and other healthcare facilities are not following the findings. Instead they continue to teach "proper body mechanics" and assure nurses that as long as they follow them, they won't be injured.  These studies show that this just isn't true. 

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), shows that injuries caused by overexertion were seen at a rate of 76 full time workers per every 10,000. The most at risk were emergency medical workers with a rate of 238 per 10,000 and Nursing home workers were at a rate of 132 per 10,000.   The national rate for all jobs is 38 per 10,000.  With these stats it's quite obvious that things need to change and healthcare facility administrators need to be taking these types of injuries more seriously and not expecting nurses to lift loads that are just not humanly possibly to do safely.  

Not to mention that patients are heavier than they  have ever been, this just further complicates this problem. 

There are several reasons why lifting and moving patients manually is very dangerous. 

Because nurses must lift patients that are often times at arms length, defies the rule for physics that it is easier to lift things when they are closer to your body. 

Because nurses continually lift patients over periods of years, they are more susceptible to spinal injuries because each time you lift you may be causing microscopic tears in the end plates, above and below each discs.  While you may not feel these injuries at the time, they do cause scaring and ultimately the discs will begin to deteriorate.

Also, according the Marras' study, the use of "lift teams" Is even more dangerous because we then introduce differences in height and strength, which makes lifting this way an uneven process and makes us susceptible to "shear"  Which is weight and forces that are pressing against the spine sideways. This can be even worse than regular lifting that causes "compression" type damage to the spine. 

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