Safe Patient Handling Techniques and 6 More Ways to Avoid Nursing Injuries

Nurse gripping back in pain

Encourage patients to wear adaptive clothes.

Adaptive clothing and footwear allows patients with little-to-no mobility to get dressed with safety and comfort. It can be really difficult to dress a patient who must remain seated or supine, but adaptive clothing remedies this problem thanks to generous fabric overlays, large openings, easy-to-use closures and other convenient features. Other garments provide reinforced, anti-strip fasteners for patients who tend to compulsively disrobe, such as those with Alzheimer's. Talk to your manager or the patient’s family about looking into adaptive clothing options.

Buy non-slip shoes.

Hard hospital floors are easy to clean and good for preventing contamination, but they do pose a fall risk, especially since they are constantly slicked down with chemicals. Head off an accident before it can happen by wearing non-slip nursing shoes to work. These shoes have special soles that are designed to give you extra traction and stability so you feel anchored on your feet all day, even while lifting patients. Not to mention they’re designed for people who spend all day on their feet, so you’ll get the support you need for a long shift of standing and walking.

Use a gait belt to move patients manually.

Patients with limited mobility can be moved manually with the use of a gait belt, a sturdy belt that straps around their middle and gives caretakers a firm handhold. Keep in mind that gait belts are mobility assistive devices, not mobility replacement devices, and should not be used to lift or move patients outright. They are best used with patients who still have some mobility but need a little extra support. For patients who have no mobility whatsoever, use a mechanical lifting device (more on this below).

Nurse helping elderly patient

Lift using correct form.

Whether you’ve moving a patient or lifting a box, use good body mechanics as you move. Set your feet firmly on the ground to make sure they won’t slip. Bend at the knees, using your legs to lift the object rather than your back. Keep your neck, back and hips aligned. Don’t twist your neck or waist. Avoid overreaching, and bring the object as close to your body as you can so it doesn’t throw off your balance. If the person or object is heavy, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from a second person. It only takes one wrong move to injure your back!

Learn how to operate assistive devices.

In addition to gait belts, most hospitals provide mechanical lifting devices such as overhead ceiling lifts and portable hydraulic lifts. Some nurses don’t like to use these machines, thinking them clunky and time-consuming. While these devices might cost you a little more in time, they can save you from a serious musculoskeletal injury caused by lifting too much weight at once. Get trained on how to operate these assistive lifting devices and use them whenever appropriate. In fact, seeing one of their colleagues utilizing the lifts will probably encourage your fellow nurses to do the same.

Woman stretching in workout attire

Stay in shape.

Working out will make your body stronger and less prone to injury, and keeping your weight down will reduce the strain on your joints. In fact, if you lift weights, the exercise will help you practice proper lifting form while building your muscles and bones at the same time. If you’ve never worked out before, it might be worth scheduling a session with a personal trainer—many gyms discount your first session or even offer one for free to new members—to learn proper form so you don’t accidentally injure yourself.

Consider a change in pace.

If your specialty requires you to do a lot of lifting and your back pain is becoming chronic, it might be time to consider making a change. Switching specialties to a unit that requires less heavy lifting, even if it’s only temporary, will give your back time to heal and keep your pain from becoming chronic. Chronic pain can hinder your ability to care for patients and even stop your ability to work altogether, so it’s better to take a short break than to keep pushing yourself and then have to quit permanently down the line.

Follow these seven best practices to keep yourself and your patients safe during your shifts. As the saying goes: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So, it’s much better to prevent an injury from ever happening in the first place than to treat it after the fact.