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Handling Stress
Protect Your Back
Avoiding chronic pain at work.

Simply, slow down.

That advice for new nurses comes from Sharon LaCroix, who experiences chronic neck and back pain because of 15 years as a nurse.

Nursing, obviously, is a physical profession. Aches and pains are the norm, after days filled with moving patients, lugging cumbersome equipment, wiggling around in awkward positions to accommodate patients. Even if you’re young, healthy, and physically fit, at the end of the day your body can feel like an octogenarian’s.

Slowing down, though, is hard to do. As a new nurse, everything feels urgent. And when your doctor barks like a drill sergeant, your pace quickens as you try to do the five things she’s demanding all at once. Sharon remembers times in the operating room during surgery when the doctor ordered another tray of instruments. She often ran to get it even though the tray was heavy and hard to manipulate as the instruments slid back and forth.

It’s at those times that your body is strained. And while you might not feel the effects immediately, in time the compounding incidents can lead to chronic pain.

Sharon suggests new nurses consider how much time they’re really gaining by rushing around and multi-tasking. Instead of placing yourself in a compromising position, let the IV beep a few extra seconds; get a step stool if you can’t reach something; ask for help moving a patient; plan ahead for another table to put an extra tray on during surgery; request a microphone headset if you make numerous calls during your shift.

“Taking that extra step doesn’t take that much longer,” says Sharon. “And it’s so much better on your body. You’ll feel much better at the end of the day. Ask yourself, ‘Why am I rushing like a crazy person? How is this helping anyone?’ Sure, it seems like a big difference, but if doctors and other nurses think you can work like a machine, they begin to expect it.”

Sharon LaCroix is an RN, BSN at Salt Creek Surgery Center, Westmont, IL, and a RealityRN Nurse Advisory Board Member.

Read more Handling Stress articles

6 Responses to “Protect Your Back”

  1. Lizzy McCarte Says:

    I’ve got friends who push themselves to the limit, always saying “I’m young”, like that makes all the difference. Nice to have someone like Sharon who suggests not overworking, rather than simply shrugging with a haughty “you’re young, handle it!” attitude.

  2. Linda Baich Says:

    It is important to look after your own health in order to do the job. If hospitals could incorporate a 10 minute stretching routine at the beginning of each shift many hours of lost work due to back strain would be saved. Also, it is up to each person to maintain there own health by maintaining weight, eating nutritiously, and exercising. A strong muscle can stand those awkward positions we get into better than a muscle that never moves!

  3. Rhonda Young-Pilon Says:

    I have just finished my third transition back into the workplace after a back injury. Should have followed my instinct to use a mechanical lift… but I didn’t. Now I have chronic back pain and will forever live with a L3-L5 disc injury. My co-workers on the unit thought I was just poo-pooing a back injury and using my aches and pains as an excuse to collect benefits… but I am 27 years old with degenerative disc problems. Now by the time I finish starting an IV or changing a bed my feet and legs are numb. Take care of your back!!

  4. ValueCareTeam Says:

    I wonder…would some of our back problems be prevented by the use safe-lifting devices in our hospitals? How many of you out there have ever used these contraptions?

  5. RehabRN Says:

    My unit desperately needs sit to stand lifts because of the number of two person transfer people we have been having. My back hurts and I am tired when I get home at night.

    I also remember a story one of our older nurses told me. She rushed around in a room, got caught in a phone cord and fell. She tore her rotator cuff so badly that she could not work for six months and she could not hook her own bra for almost a year.

    This is why I try not to rush. I can’t afford to be out of work that long!

  6. migun4rns Says:

    Nurses,no matter what age they are,need to take care of their backs. Sharon writes”compounding incidents can lead to chronic pain”,22 years of nursing and a car accident have led me on a search for relief of chronic pain,and how to help other nurses get relief or prevent injury to the back. Migun Thermal Massage is an incredible system that is healthy and healing on many levels.I am committed to spread the word and encourage you to find a center and try it.I believe that all healthcare facilities should incorporate the Migun system for nurses and staff to use.Please e-mail me at [email protected] or visit You won’t believe how good you will feel!

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