Some jobs are more prone to physical injury than others, but nursing is especially risky. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nursing is among the occupations at highest risk for nonfatal workplace injuries. If you plan on being a nurse, it's important to know what those injuries are and how to prevent them.
Nursing is Hard on the Back
Since you pull, lift and tug patients, it's no surprise that the most common nursing injury is to the lower back. In fact, lower back pain accounts for over half of the work days nurses lose to injury, according to the BLS. Here are some ways you can avoid becoming one of these statistics:
- Before you even begin working as a nurse, learn basic body mechanics that greatly reduce your risk.
- Exercises that stretch and strengthen muscles and ligaments that support the back are an excellent preventive measure.
- Ask for help before you move somebody or something beyond safe limits.
- As long as it's safe for them to do so, let your patients move themselves.
- Report back-straining situations to supervisors.
Take Extra Care of Your Feet
Nursing work takes its toll on your feet, too. Not only do you walk several miles a day, your feet are constantly shifting position. Nurses miss a lot of work because of foot problems. Foot pain leads to bad posture, and bad posture weakens your back. Several things contribute to foot pain, including:
- Shoes that are either the wrong kind for your line of work, are worn improperly or need replacing. Proper footwear with a strong arch should be replaced twice a year for full-time nurses.
- Obesity to the extent that your joints, from the hips to the toes, are all trying to compensate for the additional weight. Losing weight will not only help your feet, it can also save your life.
- Plantar fasciitis (sometimes mistakenly called "heel spurs") is caused by inflammation of connective tissue in the foot. The pain can be debilitating, but if you avoid walking barefoot at most times, learn a few stretches and take anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, it can be treated.
Unique Hazards to Your Health
Some ways nurses might get hurt on the job include environmental hazards causing falls, injuries to the hands from repetitive actions like keyboarding, electric shock from faulty wiring or improper use of equipment. Nurses also face unique threats to their health; incidental needle sticks, a route for blood-borne pathogens, are especially dangerous. Violent behaviors among patients, intentional or not, are another nurse-specific risk for injury.
Other hazards to nurses' health, although not injuries per se, can cause lost time at work and much worse. Being around sick patients and staff, coupled with improper hand washing, means exposure to airborne pathogens like influenza. Safeguarding your mental health is just as important as taking care of your body. Nursing requires mental stamina and huge emotional investment.
Despite workplace injuries associated with nursing, it remains one of the best professions in America. It pays well and has solid job growth. You are also trusted and valued by patients and their families, by physicians and other professionals you work with. Most importantly, it's safe work — if you use common sense, exercise precautions and take care of your overall health.
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