Back Injuries: Even 'Proper' Technique Exposes Nurses' Spines To
Even 'Proper' Technique Exposes Nurses' Spines To Dangerous Forces
February 11, 2015 4:33 PM ET
Scientists say nurses like Sunny Vespico are prime examples of what nursing
schools and hospitals are doing wrong: They keep teaching nursing employees
how to lift and move patients in ways that could inadvertently result in
career-ending back injuries.
Vespico, a registered nurse, was working the night shift in the intensive
care unit at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia on March 31, 2012.
At roughly 12:30 a.m., a large patient was having trouble breathing, so
Vespico and a nursing assistant moved her to a special air bed designed for
patients with respiratory problems.
"Immediately I felt a pop in my back and pain down my leg," Vespico says.
"As a nurse, and understanding the mechanics of the body, I knew that there
was something very wrong."
An MRI confirmed it: She had herniated one of her discs. And so began a saga
of excruciating pain and months off from work.
"I am 36 years old," Vespico says. "I've had three surgeries over the last
two years. And only now, after the third surgery, I might have a chance of
being able to return to being a bedside nurse."
Vespico says when she and her colleague rushed to help the 200-pound
patient, they tried to lift her using "proper body mechanics" - the way
hospitals and nursing schools have been teaching for more than 100 years.
According to the online course Nursing Fundamentals, "Body mechanics is the
utilization of correct muscles to complete a task safely and efficiently.
Keep your back straight. Bend at the knees and hips."
But William Marras, director of the Spine Research Institute at The Ohio
State University, says "this is why nursing staffs are getting hurt lifting
"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 a
back problem," he says.
Marras and his colleagues have used sophisticated electronic gadgetry to
peer inside the backs of nurses and other hospital staff as they move
patients. Their conclusions have dramatic implications for the hospital
"There's no safe way to do it with body mechanics," he says.
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, Marras says. That means nursing staff might move patients
by using technology such as a ceiling hoist - much like factory workers move
Marras and his colleagues published their first results in 1999 in a journal
The study was small, with 17 subjects. But since then, researchers in the
federal government have done their own studies and reached similar
conclusions. And today, officials in federal agencies concerned with health
issues - including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Veterans
Affairs - cite Marras' findings like gospel.
Prominent nursing groups, such as the American Nurses Association and the
National Nurses United union, endorse the conclusion that nursing staff
cannot lift patients safely without proper equipment. Yet NPR found that
administrators at most hospitals still do not follow the findings.
Re-Creating The Study
I spent a day at Marras' research center on Ohio State's campus in Columbus
to see how they conducted their landmark study. At first glance, his center
doesn't look like it has much to do with hospitals. An entire wing looks
like it might be an auto factory - with a car chassis suspended in a giant
metal cage that can raise, lower and rotate the car body in midair as though
it were a toy.
Marras says that's because his center has conducted much of its research for
auto companies, studying which positions might be safest for workers' backs
on the assembly line.
But in the late 1990s, an official from Washington state government asked
Marras if he would study nursing employees, too. Public health officials in
Washington were seeing large numbers of injuries among hospital nursing
staff in hospitals and long-term care facilities, and wanted to understand
what was causing them and how to prevent them. So Marras' staff recruited a
group of nurses and nursing assistants, brought them into the lab, and then
had them perform a series of typical nursing tasks as electronic sensors
measured the forces on their bodies.
If Marras had embarked on that study earlier in his career, it would have
been an ordeal for the test subjects. "We used to monitor the muscle
activity by loading little wires into hypodermic needles, and punching the
needles into the muscles of interest, pulling out the needle and embedding
the wire in there," Marras says. "And we've also done things like measured
intra-abdominal pressure, sticking tubes up their nose into their stomach."
He paid his test subjects, but they made sacrifices in the name of science.
By the time Marras launched his nursing study, he had invented, and
patented, a piece of equipment that made the research more palatable. It's
the "Lumbar Motion Monitor," which looks like a human spine made from an
Erector Set. To show how they conducted the study, Marras' research staff
turned me into a test subject. They strapped the artificial spine on top of
my real one, and connected it with 20 sensors that they pasted on my chest,
stomach, legs and back - just as they did with their nursing test subjects.
"What electromyography sensors do," said Jon Dufour, a research associate
engineer at the Spine Research Institute, "is, basically, when your muscles
activate, or when you recruit your muscles, they give off electricity. And
we can actually capture that and use that to understand how you're using
your muscles internally."
Dufour stood back and laughed when they finished wiring me. "So, you are
officially the bionic man," he said. "You look like a robot with all these
wires hanging off you."
Next, they rolled in a hospital bed - and the experiment began. One of their
colleagues played the part of a patient and laid down. He weighed about 150
pounds, which is lighter than many real-life patients. About 70 percent of
the adult population is overweight or obese, according to the CDC, and many
patients in acute care hospitals top 300 pounds.
To repeat what the subjects did in Marras' original study, I was supposed to
scoot the "patient" to the edge of the bed and help him sit up, then help
him into a wheelchair and push him to the commode, then move him from the
wheelchair onto the commode, and then do it all in reverse.
Marras gave me a quick lesson in "proper body mechanics." But I started
straining and grunting as soon as I tried to move the patient. Marras looked
alarmed. "You may want to just stop before you actually lift him, so we
don't hurt you," he said.
I did stop, because just trying to help the patient sit up in bed, I felt
uncomfortable pressure in my back. Admittedly, I had not trained in "proper
body mechanics" as nursing staff had done, but Marras said my inexperience
was not the main problem.
Next, we turned to a huge screen and watched something that looked straight
out of a sci-fi movie. The sensors had captured all of my movements and
animated them as a moving 3-D skeleton.
As the film version of my skeleton bent, pulled and twisted exactly as I did
with the patient, the computer showed the forces pulsing along my spine.
"We predict that you wouldn't last very long in this profession," Marras
said as he watched. That's because, according to the computer, those forces
on my lower back were above the thresholds that cause damage. "We would
expect disk problems eventually," Marras said.
Moving and lifting patients manually is dangerous even for veteran nursing
staff, Marras says, for several reasons:
-The laws of physics dictate that it's easiest to lift something when it's
close to your body. But nursing employees have to stand at the side of the
bed, relatively far from the patient.
-Nursing employees also often bend over the patient. That's important,
because there's a chain of bones along the spine, called facet joints,
hidden under the little bumps protruding under the skin. Those bones
interconnect and help absorb loads when standing straight. Marras says that
when nurses lift as they're bending, those bones disengage and their disks
take most of the force. Those forces are "much, much higher than what you'd
expect in an assembly line worker," he says.
-When nurses keep working under these loads, it causes microscopic tears in
the "end plates," which are films as thin as credit cards above and below
each disc. Those tears lead to scar tissue, which can block the flow of
nutrients into the disks - until, eventually, the disks start to collapse.
"You could be doing this damage [to your back] for weeks or months or years,
and never realize it," says Marras. "The event that caused you to feel the
problem is just the straw that broke the camel's back."
There's one more striking finding in Marras' studies: Even when two or more
nursing employees lift a patient together, they are in danger of injuring
their backs. This finding is especially important when you consider that
some hospital administrators have formed teams of two to four dedicated
lifters, specifically as a strategy to prevent staff from getting hurt.
But Marras' artificial spine and sensors show that when employees lift a
patient together as a team, physics and biology make things more
complicated. For instance, team lifting reduces the amount of weight each
person has to handle, and it can reduce "compression" forces on their spines
- the kind of forces exerted when a person lifts an object straight up.
But Marras' studies show that even teams don't reduce those compression
forces to safe levels. Worse: The studies show that lifting patients in
teams actually increases another kind of force - shear.
To understand shear, Marras says, picture a team at work: Each member is a
different height and a different strength, so the lifting is uneven, which
forces people to bend - and that leads to bigger forces pressing against the
spine sideways. That's shear.
"The problem is, our tolerances to that shear are nowhere near as great as
they would be to compression," says Marras. "And so we're at greater risk
when we're lifting as a team.
"The bottom line is, there's no safe way to lift a patient manually," Marras
says. "There's no safe way to do it with body mechanics."
Yet when NPR contacted hospital officials at random across the country, we
found that many are still not acting aggressively on those findings. For
instance, we asked Donna McKinney, vice president of acute care services at
Exeter Hospital in Exeter, N.H., how her staff learns to move patients.
She didn't hesitate to answer: "As part of the orientation, we have physical
therapy staff come and show them proper body mechanics," she said. McKinney
stressed that the safest way to move patients is to use equipment, such as
motorized lifts that hang from the ceilings. And she said some rooms in
Exeter Hospital have them.
But McKinney acknowledged that most rooms are not equipped. Why? "Money and
space constraints," she said.
Friday, February 13, 2015
|The 2014 Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge® Road Crew|
Everyone who’s run the course more than once is obsessed with setting a new PR. It is our intent as the managers of this august, amateur sports event to provide every Competitor with exactly the same setup, run after run.
To the casual spectator, the little details go unnoticed. But, to the veteran, they have an expectation that all the props are working and exactly where they belong. From the moment that we take possession of the paved surface that will be the focal point for the next several days, we’re driven to optimize the playing field to the best advantage of all competitors.
This includes the orientation of East to West to eliminate shadows and the grade that’s a part of every parking lot- that water has to run off somewhere.
So, here’s a run down of the actual mechanics of how we manage the event- from the perspective of almost a quarter of a century of experience.
Each and every single square inch and prop on the racecourse of the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge is the focal point of the setup and event crew- as much as is humanly possible. Rain or shine.
We are physically limited on how fast we can run the next set of competitors by the length of time it takes the referees to finish their scorecard for each competitor and walking that form back to the start area at the base of the tower. It averages out to 3:35. This is how we as a team, using a host of volunteers, can reset the course for 200 competitors over a 5-hour duration with very little problems - when we have enough of those volunteers to assist and adhere to the disciplined routines. The 135-foot walk (270 feet both ways) over 100 times adds up. That’s closing in on 6 miles if you do the math.
Before and/or after every run, here are the critical tasks that are performed to ensure consistency. Here’s a run down of tasks:
• Checking that the handrails are secured- and stay that way
• The 1¾” attack lines are replaced by matching the tape on the hose to the marks on the course.
• Ensuring that the exact placement of the Lion hammer mat
• Turning the donut rolls 90-degrees so they do not strike the landing overhangs
• Securing the lower hand rails to the tower vertical uprights - (Cory McGee)
• Pulling down the bunker coat on the Rescue Randy
• Lubrication and cleaning of the Keiser props (50/50 denatured alcohol and water followed by DuPont Teflon) –
• Heating of the stainless steel Keiser trays to 110°- F
• Temperature controlled environment for warming the heads of the hammers (between 80-degrees F min. to 108-degrees F max.)
• Preloading of the shot-filled sledge hammers with one (1) solid strike to the end of the Keiser 160-pound I-beam
• Facing the preloaded hammer toward the mat, or outsides of the course respectively, red & blue so that competitors know which side has been treated
• Identification of exactly where the hammer rests at a predetermined and replicable angle (11-degrees from plumb)
We all take huge pride in what we do for each and every competitor. All while attempting to maintain objectivity, fairness and equality as you would wish for any person acting in the capacity of officiating, which with a diverse and unique bunch of fire service best-of-the-best representatives, is all worthwhile, exciting and fun; and we all feel honored to serve.
The Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge® Road CrewRon Beckman, Ron Dove, Roger & Belinda Shuttlesworth, Kirk Tanner, Kofi Wallace, Eugene McPeek, Dietmar Pushar, Mike Word & Amy Word, Mike Riley, Daniel Pace, Michael DeGrandpre, Jim DeGrandpre, Todd & Melissa Shelton, Duane & Amanda Breman, Brent Davis, John Tillett, John Grandby