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URMC / Quality & Safety / Ever Better / August 2013 / Pilot Program Pushes Back Against Nurse Injury

Pilot Program Pushes Back Against Nurse Injury

Think of a few words you’d use to describe nurses. Maybe “compassionate,” “competent,” and “caring” top your list.

But what about “vulnerable”? Vulnerable to back injury, that is. With the heavy lifting these workers do—quite literally putting their backs into their work—they’re exposed to a very hard-to-cure problem that could spell lifelong discomfort.

To safeguard against possible pain and strains, a four-person team at URMC has launched the pilot “Back Injury Prevention for Nurses” program. The team’s expertise spans the fields of nursing, sports medicine, and orthopaedics and rehabilitation:

  • Mary G. Carey, director of Clinical Nursing Research Center, Nursing Practice
  • Geoffrey Grell, senior physical therapist, University Sports Medicine
  • Todd Peterson, director of Clinical Athletic Training Services and Injury Prevention, University Sports Medicine
  • Kostantinos (“Dino”) Vasalos, Spine Rehabilitation program coordinator, Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation

Interior view of spineTogether, these health care professionals developed a 12-week exercise program designed to stave off back injury (adopted from the American College of Sports Medicine’s guidelines for exercise in adults), and recruited 32 healthy nurses to participate. The “preventive maintenance” workout consists of spine rehabilitation specialists leading participants through a mixture of aerobic exercise, strength building, and flexibility training.

“When we work on health issues for a 12-week chunk of time, we tend to see real effects,” Carey said. “It’s kind of a sweet spot, that time period.” The pilot exercise program will kick off around early fall.

One of the program’s foreseeable challenges is, of course, long-term maintenance after those initial 12 weeks wrap up. The Greater Rochester YMCA, however, has offered to partner with URMC to bolster this program, and could cut their membership costs for participants. Carey pointed out that an important part of the program would be follow-up with the nurses, to encourage them to maintain their new behaviors.

“The ultimate goal,” said Vasalos, “is to cement a lifestyle change for these nurses. We’ll be trying to condition their muscles while persuading participants to adopt new healthy habits.” To keep an eye on progress, the program leaders are tracking nurses’ biometric data (body fat percentage, height, weight, upper body strength, flexibility, and so on); they’ll also rely on pencil-and-paper info gathering. Nurses will be asked, for example, to rate their lower back pain, to report their absenteeism, and to share their exercise logs.

Hatching a Plan

The pilot doesn’t reinvent the wheel; it’s carefully modeled on current orthopaedic programs already proven effective with a wealth of patient data.

Vasalos charted out the three main layers of intervention available when it comes to avoiding back injury: Education, smart equipment, and exercise.

Hands holding hurt backRight now, our nurses are already educated on ergonomics; they’re also taught to use special equipment (“hover mats”) to help them move heavier patients—but there’s a gap when it comes to that third component: exercise. That’s the missing link this new pilot aims to fill.

Eventually, the team would like to see this exercise program go hospital-wide and rocket in popularity. Potentially, the University would cover the cost of the program, so nurses wouldn’t have to dip into their wallets (which makes great sense, considering that musculoskeletal issues are among the University’s top employee health care claims). But first, the program has to show positive preliminary data and demonstrate feasibility.

While the program is still in its formative stages, there’s another step nurses can take to protect their backs: URMC’s Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation offers Group Core Conditioning Classes, tried and tested on their “spine patient” populations, that URMC nurses can register for to the discounted tune of $10 a session.

“Once this complex part of your body is a problem, turning back to its former health is tricky. It seems that the best medicine, as we’re hearing more and more, is prevention,” said Vasalos.

Hopes are running high for the success of this program—designed to take care of those who help take care of us.

Interested in giving those Group Core Conditioning Classes a shot? For our Brighton location (Clinton Crossings), please call (585) 341-9150 for info; for Greece’s facility, call (585) 225-6296.

If you’d like more information on the pilot program, please e-mail Todd Peterson or Dino Vasalos.


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