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Nurses Who Feel Unsupported at Work May Have Higher Risk of Injury

Nursing can be an injury-prone occupation. It’s easy to strain a back or pull a neck muscle when your job requires repetitive movements. Not to mention you probably care for patients in awkward positions and need to overexert yourself to lift or otherwise tend to them.

A new study suggests that musculoskeletal injuries on the job don’t exclusively stem from the physical work nurses do. It found that nurses disappointed by their social support in the workplace are more likely to experience severe lower-back problems and upper limb injuries.

What Did The Study Find?

“Beyond the physical demands of the job, social factors can pose additional risks for nurses to experience muscle and joint pain in the shoulders, arms, hands and lower back,” said study co-author Chu-Hsiang Chang, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, in a statement. “These types of musculoskeletal disorders often are worsened by feelings of anger.”

In the study, Chang and colleagues surveyed 410 nurses from 29 units at two different hospitals. The research relied heavily on self-reported data and aggregated participants’ individual experiences.

The results showed that nurses were more likely to feel angry if they believed there was an imbalance between the support they were expected to give and what they felt like they received at work. And anger was a significant predictor of more severe pain in the lower back, and upper body, according to the report in the journal Work and Occupations.

However, in units where the expectation was that there would be an imbalance in support, nurses had lower levels of anger, which was linked to less severe lower back and upper limb symptoms.

Musculoskeletal injuries are more disabling than any other type of occupational injury. Such injuries are responsible for 31 percent of sick days for non-fatal conditions and usually require 12 days to recover, according to 2015 data cited in the study’s introduction. The rate of back injuries is higher in nurses than in other occupations, including those in other healthcare-related professions.

What Does This Mean For Healthcare Providers?

The findings suggest that it’s important that managers take “a holistic approach” and consider nurses as both givers and receivers of support, the authors said.

“Ensuring fair treatment or distribution of workload in a social context could be a good strategy that can reduce feelings of anger and ultimately, have an indirect effect on reducing injury complaints, too,” Chang added.

Last updated on 10/1/19.

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