Shouldering the Responsibility of Caring Without Breaking Your Back

By Karen Barrett, RN, COHN-S, CHSP
Director of Employee Health Services
Methodist Health System

I may have one of the most challenging jobs in Methodist Health System. As director of Employee Health Services, I am responsible for caring for those whose job is caring for others. Keeping our employees healthy is critical to the successful completion of our mission of caring for the communities we serve.

Nurses have been taught to be unselfish and tend to devote themselves to their patients. As a result, my team continually reminds them of the importance of taking care of themselves.

Our employee health clinics see a wide variety of illnesses and injuries. From strains to sprains, we see it all. It’s not surprising that our area is so busy, considering working in health care can be more hazardous than a construction job. Why? For a number of reasons.

  • Not all of the rules that apply to safely lifting a heavy box apply to lifting a patient.
  • Patients don’t have handles, so safely maneuvering them is difficult and challenging.
  • Patients can’t be held as close to the lifter’s body, so they can’t be lifted in the same way we would normally approach lifting a heavy load.
  • You never know if a patient can or cannot help themselves to stand up or get out of bed. You have to assess every patient every time.
  • Taking care of a patient is unpredictable.

Nurses and other caregivers who are at the bedside or involved in moving the patient risk injury due to several factors, which often lead to back and shoulder sprains and strains.

  • Awkward postures. Clinicians may have to bend over or stoop more often to help patients, creating positions more susceptible to potential injury.
  • Lifting increasingly heavy loads. It’s no secret, the population is getting bigger and heavier.
  • Excessive pushing and pulling. Even the seemingly simple task of giving a patient a bath in his or her bed can be physically challenging.
  • Frequent, repeated moving and lifting. All day long.

How do you prevent or mitigate back injuries from occurring?

  1. Assess the patient’s weight, level of cognizance, and his or her ability to help with the lift before ever attempting to move the patient.
  2. Use the buddy system. Ask a co-worker for help lifting the patient, and plan the lift before you attempt it.
  3. Push rather than pull. It’s ergonomically easier on the body to push rather than pull, and it’s easier to successfully manage an uneven surface pushing rather than pulling. Always take advantage of support options including gait belts that help provide the caregiver something to hold onto, which makes for a safer transfer.

If you suffer a sprain or strain, remember the acronym RICE — Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate. Ice stops muscle spasms, which occur because of tiny tears in the muscles. If the injury has lasted longer than a week, heat may be a course of treatment. Over-the-counter nonsteroidals such as Advil®, Excedrin®, and Aleve® can also be effective.

I love taking care of the Methodist family. From the first time I came here a year ago, I have found them to be the friendliest people I have ever met. I think Methodist as a whole still genuinely feels like a real family.

If you’re ready to join a family, then it’s time to choose Methodist. Learn more by visiting

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