Nurses Suffer High Levels of Back Pain

Nurses are at a high risk of back injury due to the amount of physical labor they do during their jobs every day. Critical care nurses are at an even higher risk of musculoskeletal problems than other nurses or people in other jobs. They frequently lift or handle heavy patients and equipment of awkward sizes for long shifts. These movements cause a lot of strain on the back, shoulder, and neck muscles. Injuries to these areas are common in nurses and can become long-term if not treated or not allowed to heal.

Due to the high volume of these work injuries, many hospitals and health-care employers have put in place equipment to take away some of the physical labor for nurses. This equipment includes lift aids, so that nurses do not have to lift the patients themselves. However, the availability to nurses of these devices in hospitals has been relatively unknown. Also, the actual use of these lifts by nurses has not been clear.

A recent study, conducted in 2013, sought the answers to these unknowns. Researchers sent surveys to critical nurses throughout the United States to get a random sample of participants, and 361 nurses responded. Data was collected about pain in the neck, shoulders, and lower back, as well as the availability of lifts and frequency of use. Other information was also gathered, such as socio-demographics, physical conditions, and psycho-social job factors.

Of the 361 nurse participants in the study, only 46% noted that their hospital or employer actually had lift equipment in the hospital for them to use. For the participants who did have lifts in their place of work, 60% said that the equipment was readily available, while 25% said it was moderately available, and 14% had low availability of the lifts.

The study found that nurses who did not use the lifts, for whatever reason, were two times as likely to have work injuries and work-related pain in their backs, compared to the nurses who frequently used the lift equipment. Shoulder pain was documented in more than three times the nurses who did not use the lifts on a regular basis and neck pain was also reported to be three times higher for nurses who had infrequent use of the lifts.

Having lifts in the hospital is effective in reducing back and neck injuries in nurses. However, this is out of the nurses’ control. For the nurses who do suffer from theses work injuries, a chiropractor, such as Dr. Geary Michels in Salem, OR, can provide treatment,. Exercises to strengthen muscles, learning proper lifting techniques, and chiropractic adjustments are helpful in reducing symptoms and preventing these injuries when lift equipment is not yet available.


Lee SJ, Faucett J, Gillen M, Krause N. Musculoskeletal pain among critical-care nurses by availability and use of patient lifting equipment: An analysis of cross-sectional survey data. International Journal of Nursing Studies May 3 2013. doi:10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2013.03.010. [Epub ahead of print].


  1. dr Robertson

    Dr. Julia Robertson, DC is a Chiropractic Physician who worked with Michels Spinal Rehab and Associates and who is now the proud owner of Robertson Spinal Rehab & Associates. She provides personal one on one services specializing in spinal manipulation, physiotherapy, nutritional counseling in addition to developing personal rehab programs.