Tips to Overcome Lower Back Pain Working as a Nurse

Whether it is occasional or chronic, back pain can be debilitating. If you are a nurse who needs to be on your feet all day, back pain can be particularly hard to deal with. According to research, nursing and back pain often go hand in hand. As a matter of fact, statistics show that over 70 percent of nurses will experience at least one episode of back pain a year—ouch!

Are you a nurse who struggles with back pain? Don’t worry; we’ve got your back (see what we did there?). In all seriousness, though, we have some great tips on how nurses can deal with all types of back pain, including how to tackle low back pain in nurses. Read on for three tips to overcome back pain and strain while working as a nurse. 

Back Pain in Nurses 

Back pain is the most common medical complaint among the general population throughout the United States. Furthermore, due to the physical nature of a nurse’s job description, back pain can become even more problematic. And while such pain can be either constant, intermittent, or rare, back pain can be challenging to manage in any workplace setting. 

For nurses, musculoskeletal injuries and lower back pain are the most frequent causes of disability in the workplace. Nurses are especially susceptible to back pain from lifting patients. This pain can come from repeated heavy lifting as well as from making awkward and sudden movements that can strain muscles in the back. Additionally, back pain can be caused by various factors, including strained ligaments or muscles, poor posture, excess weight, and certain medical conditions. 

Both acute and chronic back pain can lead nurses to experience physical and mental fatigue and limited productivity at work. What’s more, back pain can be aggravated further by the stress of having back pain. Therefore, nurses should make back and spine health a priority. Here’s how:

Nurse Back Pain Stretches

yoga

Stress, weak muscles, and poor posture can all put a strain on your back. Nurses are even more vulnerable to lower back pain because of workplace risk factors, including lifting patients and general exposure to the physical demands of nursing. 

One of the best ways to alleviate lower back pain as a nurse is to strengthen your spine. The spine is often referred to as “the master control system” for the entire body, as it connects the nervous system with every bodily function. Basically, the spine is and will always be your greatest support.

Below are some easy spine-strengthening exercises that you can easily find the time to do before and after a long nursing shift:

Five-Minute Lower Back Stretch: Four-Point Kneel Position

This is a practical and time-efficient stretch for busy nurses. That’s because this five-minute lower back stretch can be done anywhere; just grab a blanket or a yoga mat to place under your knees. 

To begin the stretch, start on all fours (four-point kneel position) with your hands flat on the ground and your spine in a straight line. Take a deep exhale and begin to hollow out your belly as you round your spine to the sky. Next, take a deep inhale and begin to arch your back while dropping your belly down to the ground. Repeat for ten breaths and then pause for five breaths. Repeat this sequence until five minutes are up. Check out the video-guided version of the stretch here. 

Ten-Minute Lower Back Stretch: Knee-to-Chest and Low Bridge Position 

This stretch is ideal for after a long nursing shift. It helps to calmly stretch the ligaments of the back as well as strengthen the muscles along the entire spine. 

To begin, start by laying on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent. Next, interlace your hands and wrap your arms around the upper part of your right shin. Slowly start to bring your knee towards your chest. At the same time, extend your left leg to the ground. Switch and repeat on the other side. Repeat for ten breaths and then pause for five breaths. Repeat this sequence until five minutes are up. Check out the video version of the stretch here.

After finishing the knees-to-chest stretch, continue on to the low bridge position. Remain with your back on the floor, knees bent, and feet flat. Extend your arms towards the back of your heels and rest them with your hands flat on the floor, palms facing down. With an inhale, begin to lift your hips toward the ceiling by engaging your glutes and core. You can use a foam roller for support under your lower back if necessary. With an exhale, start to slowly lower your hips back to the ground. Pause for five breaths. Repeat this sequence until five minutes are up. Check out the video version of the stretch here. 

Choose the Right Footwear 

As a nurse, you already know how important it is to wear the right shoes to work because being on your feet for long periods of time is all part of the job. As a general rule of thumb, the best pair of shoes for nurses and lower back pain are tennis shoes and running shoes. In addition, shoes that support back health will have the following characteristics:

  • Arch support
  • Shock absorbing
  • Well cushioned
  • Moderate heel height

Considering that nurses walk an average of four miles a day during a twelve-hour shift, we think investing in a supportive pair of nursing shoes is critical. Moreover, research suggests that wearing the right shoes can help decrease pain in people who suffer from long-term lower back pain. If you are looking for a little more support for your feet at work, make sure you check out the best nursing shoes to slip on here. 

Reducing Stress with Small Changes

meditation

Did you know that stress plays a major role in exacerbating lower back pain? Evidence suggests that there is a link between a prolonged unhealthy mental state and lower back pain. With that in mind, there are plenty of ways to reduce stress on a daily basis that don’t require a lot of time. Here’s a look at a few lifestyle decompression actions that may help to reduce your stress both in life and at work:

  • Practice mindful meditation: Just five minutes of mindful meditation a day could keep you light on your feet and sound in your mind. Check out a quick guided meditation video here. 
  • Pack healthy snacks: Eating snacks that are packed with protein and low in refined sugars can help you stay alert and productive while on a nursing shift. Make sure you browse through our list of quick and healthy power snacks for busy per diem nurses here. 
  • Have a support network: Making time for interpersonal relationships can help reduce stress, increase your sense of worth, and keep you from feeling isolated. Evidence continues to suggest that people who have healthy relationships are less likely to suffer from mental and/or physical ailments, so clear some time in your schedule and pencil in some social time!

Healthy Spine, Happy Nurse

Watching your posture is another way you can make sure your spine stays healthy and happy while working as a nurse. This means giving yourself little reminders throughout the day to keep your shoulders back and your head in line with your body. Furthermore, incorporating a few of the activities mentioned above can help you increase your back strength while dramatically decreasing lower back pain over time. Remember, keeping your body and back healthy is the best gift you can give yourself. Because, at the end of the day, a healthy spine makes for a happy nurse! 

Blog published on:
April 13, 2023

Meet Jenna, a contributing copywriter at Nursa who writes about healthcare news and updates, empathy and compassion for nurses, how to show staff appreciation and increase retention, and guides that help nurses navigate career pathways.

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