Nurse with glasses touching her back in pain

10 Most Common Nursing Injuries

A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Preventing Common Nursing Injuries

Nurse with glasses touching her back in pain

Nursing is widely recognized as a profession that demands both emotional resilience and physical endurance. Nurses are on the front lines of healthcare, providing critical care, comfort, and support to patients across various settings. However, the demanding nature of their work, characterized by long hours, the necessity of performing complex procedures under stress, and the physical tasks of lifting and moving patients, significantly increases their risk of workplace injuries. Such injuries not only affect the nurses’ ability to work but also pose challenges to the healthcare system, emphasizing the need for improved safety measures and ergonomics within the workplace.

Understanding the common injuries that nurses face is crucial for promoting a safer workplace environment. By identifying the activities that pose the highest risk, healthcare institutions can implement targeted interventions to prevent injuries, such as providing proper lifting equipment, offering training on safe patient handling techniques, and fostering a culture that prioritizes employee health and safety. These measures are not only essential for preventing short-term incidents but are also vital in averting long-term health issues that can arise from repetitive strain and chronic workplace stress. Ensuring the well-being of nurses not only enhances their quality of life but also ensures they can continue to provide the highest level of care to their patients.

For those considering a career in this challenging yet rewarding field, understanding the risks and the importance of workplace safety is a key part of preparation. Our comprehensive career guide on how to become a registered nurse offers valuable insights into what it takes to succeed in nursing, including how to navigate the potential hazards of the profession. Additionally, for nurses looking to advance their careers, our article on the highest paying nursing jobs provides information on specializations and roles that offer both professional growth and financial rewards, highlighting the opportunities available within this dynamic field. These resources serve as essential tools for both aspiring and current nurses, guiding them through the complexities of the healthcare environment and towards fulfilling and safe career paths.

Nurse Injury Statistics

According to the BLS, in 2016, female registered nurses (RNs) bore the brunt of workplace injuries and illnesses, representing 91.2 percent of the estimated 19,790 total cases within the profession. This high incidence rate among female RNs closely mirrors the gender distribution in the nursing field, where approximately 90.0 percent of RNs in the United States were female.

The age group most affected by workplace injuries and illnesses was nurses aged 45 to 54, who constituted 27.0 percent of all cases. Furthermore, a significant portion of these incidents occurred among seasoned professionals, with about half (9,580) of the injured RNs being long-term employees who had been with their employer for five years or more.

These statistics underscore the pressing need for comprehensive safety protocols and training in patient handling techniques to mitigate these risks. By focusing on the common causes of injuries, such as overexertion and slips and falls, healthcare institutions can develop targeted strategies to protect their staff. For example, nurses who work in ambulatory healthcare services are more prone to injuries involving transportation incidents or falls, slips, and trips, while hospital nurses may be at higher risk of violent events, overexertion, or contact with hazardous objects and equipment. Addressing these issues is not only critical for safeguarding the health and safety of nurses but also for ensuring the sustainability of high-quality patient care within the healthcare system.

10 Most Common Injuries Among Nurses

Woman in a grey shirt with back pain

1. Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

Musculoskeletal disorders encompass a wide range of injuries affecting the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, or spinal discs. Nurses are particularly vulnerable to MSDs due to the physical demands of their job, which often requires them to engage in activities like lifting and moving patients. These repetitive and strenuous tasks can lead to conditions such as lower back pain, tendonitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome, significantly impacting a nurse’s ability to perform their duties and reducing their quality of life.

Most Affected Nurses: The physicality of working in emergency and geriatric care settings places a significant burden on nurses’ musculoskeletal health. In emergency care, the necessity to act quickly, often in cramped and unpredictable circumstances, increases the risk of injury. Geriatric care, on the other hand, involves specific challenges related to the manual handling of patients, many of whom require significant support to move safely, making these nurses particularly vulnerable to musculoskeletal injuries.

Prevention Strategies: The introduction of ergonomic tools and equipment can greatly reduce the physical strain on nurses. Adjustable beds that can be raised or lowered facilitate safer patient transfers, minimizing the need to bend or lift in awkward positions. Mechanical lifts and transfer devices are also crucial in reducing the manual effort required to move patients, significantly lowering the risk of back and shoulder injuries. Providing access to such equipment not only aids in the prevention of MSDs but also enhances the efficiency and safety of patient care. Cultivating an environment where nurses feel empowered and supported to prioritize their own safety is essential. This involves training staff to recognize when and how to use ergonomic equipment properly and to encourage teamwork in patient-handling tasks to distribute the physical load more evenly. Furthermore, it means fostering an atmosphere where nurses feel comfortable requesting assistance or additional resources without fear of reprisal or judgment. Such a culture not only protects nurses from injury but also models a commitment to health and safety that can positively influence patient care practices.

2. Needlestick and Sharps Injuries

Needlestick and sharps injuries are a significant hazard for nurses, posing risks of transmitting infections such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. These injuries can occur during the administration of injections, the drawing of blood, or the disposal of used needles and other sharp instruments. Despite advancements in safety-engineered devices and protocols designed to minimize these risks, such injuries remain a concern due to the fast-paced nature of healthcare settings and the sheer volume of procedures performed.

Most Affected Nurses: While all nurses are at risk of needlestick and sharps injuries, those in environments where the pace and pressure are high face the greatest challenges. The complexity of emergency and surgical care, coupled with the critical nature of the interventions, creates a scenario where even the most experienced professionals can be vulnerable to accidents. The potential for such injuries not only poses a risk of physical harm but also the anxiety of possible exposure to bloodborne pathogens, adding a psychological dimension to the concern.

Prevention Strategies: Implementing the use of safety-engineered sharps, which are designed to minimize the risk of injury, is a crucial step in prevention. These devices include needles with safety caps, retractable features, and shielded IV catheters. Ensuring these devices are available and used consistently can significantly reduce the occurrence of accidental punctures. Proper disposal of sharps in clearly marked puncture-resistant containers immediately after use is essential to prevent injuries. These containers should be easily accessible at the point of care, reducing the need to transport used sharps over distances, which can increase the risk of injury. Additionally, education and ongoing training are key components of a comprehensive prevention strategy. Regular workshops and simulation exercises can reinforce safe handling practices, encourage the reporting of incidents, and ensure that all staff are aware of the latest safety protocols. Training should also emphasize the importance of not recapping needles, as this practice is a common cause of needlestick injuries.

Nurse in green scrubs holding her back in pain

3. Back Injuries

Back injuries are among the most common and debilitating issues nurses face, often resulting from manual patient handling tasks such as lifting, transferring, or supporting patients. These activities can strain the back muscles and spinal column, leading to acute injuries or chronic conditions. Persistent back pain not only affects the physical health of nurses but also their job satisfaction and mental well-being.

Most Affected Nurses: The physical demands are especially high in orthopedics, where patients may require assistance with mobility due to injuries or surgeries affecting their musculoskeletal system. Similarly, surgical nurses often participate in positioning patients for procedures, which can involve awkward postures and movements. In long-term care facilities, the ongoing needs of patients for assistance with activities of daily living can result in continuous strain on nurses’ backs. These environments highlight the critical need for effective injury prevention strategies to protect nurses from back injuries, ensuring their well-being and ability to provide care.

Prevention Strategies: Encouraging nurses to engage in regular, targeted exercises to strengthen their core muscles can provide better support for the back, enhancing stability and reducing the risk of injury. Core strengthening routines, such as Pilates, yoga, or specific physical therapy exercises, can be incorporated into nurses’ wellness programs to help build the muscular support needed for patient-handling tasks. Education and training on proper lifting techniques are crucial for preventing back injuries. This includes teaching nurses to maintain a neutral spine, bend at the knees, keep the load close to the body, and avoid twisting movements while carrying a patient. Regular training sessions, including simulated patient handling scenarios, can reinforce these techniques and ensure they become second nature. In addition, adopting the proper use of mechanical aids, such as lift hoists, transfer sheets, and adjustable beds, can significantly reduce the physical strain on nurses. Healthcare facilities should ensure that such aids are readily available and maintained and that staff are trained in their use. Creating a culture that encourages the use of mechanical aids instead of manual lifting whenever possible is key to reducing the incidence of back injuries.

4. Slips, Trips, and Falls

Slips, trips, and falls in the workplace can lead to a range of injuries, from minor bruises to more serious fractures or head injuries. Nurses are particularly at risk due to the often unpredictable and busy nature of healthcare environments, where spills, clutter, and the urgency of responding to patient needs can create hazards. These incidents can result in significant downtime and may have long-term effects on a nurse’s health and career.

Most Affected Nurses: While no nurse is immune to the risk of slips, trips, and falls, those working in areas with higher incidences of spills—such as where intravenous fluids are commonly administered or where emergency medical responses necessitate quick movement—are particularly susceptible. The combination of urgency and environmental hazards can create a perfect storm for accidents, underscoring the need for vigilant safety practices.

Prevention Strategies: Regular housekeeping protocols should be strictly followed to ensure that all areas are free from clutter that can cause tripping and spills and that they are cleaned up immediately to prevent slipping. Clearing pathways, securing cords and cables, and ensuring that equipment is stored properly when not in use are essential practices that contribute to a safer work environment. Encouraging or mandating the use of non-slip footwear for all nursing staff can significantly reduce the risk of slipping, especially in areas prone to spills. Shoes designed for healthcare environments offer enhanced grip on wet and dry surfaces, providing an additional layer of safety for nurses as they perform their duties. Establishing protocols for the immediate reporting and cleaning of spills is critical. This includes having readily accessible spill kits and signage to warn of wet floors and ensuring that such hazards are dealt with swiftly and effectively. Training all staff members to recognize their role in maintaining a safe environment by addressing spills, regardless of their department or position, fosters a culture of safety and collective responsibility.

Nurse dealing with an angry male patient

5. Workplace Violence Injuries

Workplace violence is a growing concern in healthcare settings, with nurses frequently facing physical assaults or threats from patients and visitors. Such incidents can lead to both physical injuries and psychological trauma, affecting nurses’ sense of safety and their ability to provide care. The unpredictable nature of patient interactions, especially in high-stress areas like emergency departments, underscores the importance of preventive measures and training.

Most Affected Nurses: Emergency department and psychiatric care nurses are often on the front lines, dealing with a wide array of patient behaviors. The high-stress atmosphere, combined with the urgent nature of patient needs in these departments, can sometimes lead to aggressive incidents. Nurses in these settings must navigate complex interactions that require not only clinical skill but also a high degree of emotional intelligence and crisis management ability.

Prevention Strategies: Implement comprehensive violence prevention programs, provide training on de-escalation techniques, and ensure that staff have quick access to security personnel. Healthcare facilities should develop and implement overarching violence prevention programs that include policies and procedures specifically designed to protect staff from aggressive behavior. These programs can outline clear protocols for identifying potential risks, reporting incidents, and responding to violence, ensuring a structured approach to workplace safety. Also, providing nurses with training in de-escalation techniques is crucial. Such training can equip nurses with the skills needed to manage and diffuse tense situations before they escalate to violence. Techniques may include verbal and non-verbal communication strategies, situational awareness, and understanding the underlying factors that contribute to aggressive behavior. Lastly, ensuring that nurses have immediate access to security personnel is essential for a rapid response in the event of a violent incident. This can be facilitated through panic buttons, direct communication lines, and security staff who are trained to deal with healthcare-specific scenarios. The presence and visibility of security personnel can also serve as a deterrent to potential aggressors.

6. Occupational Stress and Burnout

Occupational stress and burnout arise from the high-pressure environment of nursing, characterized by long hours, emotional demands, and frequent exposure to human suffering. This can lead to a range of psychological issues, including depression, anxiety, and burnout, significantly affecting nurses’ well-being and their ability to provide compassionate care. The cumulative effect of stress and burnout also contributes to high turnover rates in the nursing profession.

Most Affected Nurses: The acute stress experienced by ICU, emergency department, and oncology nurses is compounded by the emotional connections formed with patients and their families. These nurses navigate a delicate balance of providing high-level clinical care while also offering emotional support to patients and families facing critical health challenges or the realities of terminal illness. The cumulative effect of these pressures can erode a nurse’s resilience over time, making them more vulnerable to occupational stress and burnout.

Prevention Strategies: Hospitals and healthcare facilities must foster a culture that values and supports work-life balance. This can involve flexible scheduling, providing opportunities for time off, and promoting practices that help nurses disconnect from work stressors during their off-hours. Making mental health resources readily available, such as counseling services, stress management workshops, and support groups specifically for healthcare workers, can offer nurses valuable outlets for processing their experiences and emotions. These resources can be instrumental in helping nurses develop coping strategies and resilience. Lastly, adequate staffing is critical to reducing workload pressures and preventing burnout. By ensuring sufficient nurse-to-patient ratios, healthcare facilities can alleviate the intense workload often shouldered by ICU, emergency department, and oncology nurses, allowing them more time to provide quality care and engage in self-care practices.

African-American nurse resting her head on her hands

7. Overexertion Injuries

Overexertion injuries in nursing are a significant occupational hazard, resulting from the physical demands of patient care that exceed a nurse’s physical capacity. These injuries can occur through various activities, such as lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying heavy loads, often involving the movement of patients. Overexertion not only encompasses acute injuries like muscle strains and joint dislocations but also contributes to chronic conditions, including back pain and musculoskeletal disorders, which can develop over time from repeated stress and strain on the body.

Most Affected Nurses: Nurses working in departments where the physical demands of patient care are particularly high, such as emergency, orthopedics, and geriatrics, are most at risk. These settings often require frequent mobilization of patients, including transferring patients from beds to chairs, assisting with ambulation, and repositioning patients to prevent bedsores, all of which can place significant physical strain on nurses.

Prevention Strategies: Preventing overexertion injuries requires a combination of proper training, use of equipment, and supportive workplace policies, such as encouraging the use of mechanical lifting aids, ergonomic assessments, teamwork, and health and wellness programs that help nurses maintain optimal strength and flexibility are crucial.

8. Chemical Exposure

Nurses are exposed to a variety of chemicals, including medications, disinfectants, and hazardous drugs, which can pose risks of respiratory issues, skin irritation, and more severe health problems. Handling these substances without proper protective measures can lead to acute or chronic health issues, emphasizing the need for strict adherence to safety protocols and the use of appropriate personal protective equipment.

Most Affected Nurses: Specifically, nurses in oncology departments are frequently exposed to cytotoxic drugs used in chemotherapy treatments, which pose significant health risks if not handled properly. Similarly, laboratory nurses or those working in research settings encounter a variety of chemicals that require careful management to prevent accidents and exposure. Nurses in these areas need to be especially vigilant, as the cumulative effect of low-level exposure over time can lead to chronic health issues.

Prevention Strategies: Proper use of PPE is the first line of defense against chemical hazards. Depending on the chemicals being handled, PPE might include gloves, gowns, eye protection, and respiratory masks. It’s crucial that nurses are trained on the correct use of PPE and that such equipment is readily available and appropriately maintained.

9. Infectious Diseases

The risk of exposure to infectious diseases is a constant concern for nurses, who often work in close proximity to patients with contagious illnesses. This exposure can occur through direct contact with bodily fluids, contaminated surfaces, or even airborne particles, leading to illnesses that can affect a nurse’s health and their ability to care for patients. Proper infection control practices, including the use of PPE and hand hygiene, are critical in minimizing these risks.

Most Affected Nurses: Those working in infectious disease wards are particularly vulnerable, as they deal with patients diagnosed with diseases that are often highly contagious and can be severe or life-threatening. Emergency room nurses also encounter a broad spectrum of illnesses, including infectious diseases, often before a diagnosis is confirmed, which can leave them particularly exposed to risk. These nurses must be adept at using protective measures to safeguard their health while providing critical care.

Prevention Strategies: Adherence to infection control practices encompasses a wide range of protocols designed to prevent the spread of infections, including hand hygiene practices, sterilization of equipment, and isolation procedures for patients with contagious diseases. The proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is also crucial in creating a barrier against infectious agents. Moreover, keeping vaccinations current, including seasonal flu shots, hepatitis B vaccines, and other relevant immunizations, is vital for nurses in direct patient care roles. Additionally, prophylactic treatments and post-exposure prophylaxis protocols can be crucial for managing exposures to specific pathogens when they occur.

Close up of a woman scratching her arm

10. Skin Disorders

Frequent handwashing, the use of sanitizers, and prolonged glove use are necessary components of infection control in healthcare, but they can also lead to skin disorders such as dermatitis. These conditions can cause discomfort, cracking, and bleeding, adversely affecting a nurse’s comfort and job performance. Implementing skin care routines that include the use of moisturizers and selecting appropriate protective gloves can help mitigate these effects.

Most Affected Nurses: While nurses in all clinical settings are susceptible to skin disorders due to the universal need for stringent hygiene practices, those working in areas with heightened infection control protocols, such as infectious disease units, intensive care, and surgery, may be particularly at risk. The necessity for constant hand hygiene and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in these settings can exacerbate skin damage, making effective skin care an essential component of a nurse’s daily routine.

Prevention Strategies: Using skin-friendly disinfectants and soaps, regular application of moisturizers, and choosing gloves made of materials that minimize skin irritation. For example, opting for hand hygiene products that contain moisturizers or are designed for sensitive skin can significantly reduce the risk of skin irritation. Encouraging nurses to regularly apply moisturizer can help restore the skin’s natural barrier and prevent dryness and cracking. With the extended wear of gloves becoming more common, selecting gloves made from hypoallergenic materials or those designed for sensitive skin can help reduce the risk of allergic reactions and irritation. Nitrile gloves, for example, are a suitable alternative for those allergic to latex, and powder-free options can further minimize irritation.

The Importance of Safety Education

Safety education and training play a pivotal role in preventing nursing injuries, serving as the cornerstone of a proactive approach to workplace safety in healthcare settings. By equipping nurses with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate potential hazards, safety education initiatives significantly reduce the risk of occupational injuries. Ongoing education programs are essential for promoting awareness of the myriad risks nurses face daily, from patient handling and infectious disease exposure to the mitigation of workplace violence. Moreover, these programs are instrumental in teaching proper techniques for safely performing job duties, thereby minimizing the risk of overexertion and other physical injuries.

The integration of safety protocols and best practices into nursing curriculums and ongoing professional development programs is vital for fostering a culture of safety within healthcare environments. This approach ensures that safety education is not merely a one-time endeavor but a continuous process that evolves with the changing dynamics of healthcare settings. By incorporating safety training from the onset of a nurse’s education and throughout their career, the healthcare industry can ensure that nurses are always equipped with the most current knowledge and techniques to protect themselves and their patients. For example, facilities that have embraced a zero-lift policy, supported by proper training and access to lifting devices, have reported decreases in musculoskeletal injuries among nursing staff. Similarly, programs focusing on conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques have contributed to a reduction in incidents of workplace violence. These initiatives not only improve the safety and well-being of nurses but also enhance patient care outcomes by ensuring a healthier, more focused, and less stressed nursing workforce. The effectiveness of these safety education programs underscores the importance of continuous investment in nurse training as a critical component of healthcare quality and safety strategies.

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Explore a High-Quality Nursing Education Today!

In the world of healthcare, nurse safety emerges as a paramount concern, highlighting the myriad occupational hazards these indispensable frontline workers face. From musculoskeletal disorders resulting from repetitive patient handling to the psychological toll of occupational stress and burnout, the scope of risks is broad and multifaceted. The discussion above not only sheds light on these prevalent injuries but also emphasizes the critical need for comprehensive safety education, proper use of equipment, and the implementation of robust safety protocols to mitigate these risks.

Prioritizing nurse safety is not merely a matter of policy but a foundational aspect of ensuring high-quality patient care. As such, nurses, healthcare administrators, and policymakers must work collaboratively to foster a culture of safety that permeates every aspect of healthcare delivery. Nurses themselves are encouraged to be proactive in advocating for their own well-being and safety, seeking out education on best practices, and utilizing available resources to prevent injury. It is through such concerted efforts that the healthcare industry can safeguard its most valuable asset: the health and well-being of those who dedicate their lives to caring for others.

Eagle Gate College stands at the forefront of nursing education, committed to preparing the next generation of nurses for the challenges and opportunities of modern healthcare. With a range of nursing programs, from an entry-level Practical Nursing Program or the foundational and comprehensive Bachelor of Science in Nursing program to advanced degree options, such as a MEPN Program or Master of Science in Nursing program , Eagle Gate College is dedicated to providing a high-quality nursing education that emphasizes both clinical excellence and safety in patient care. Through a blend of rigorous academic coursework, hands-on training, and a strong focus on safety practices, the college equips future nurses with the knowledge, skills, and resilience needed to thrive.