Reducing the Musculoskeletal Pains of Operating Theatre Nurses

Operating theatre nurses work in sterile zones under the supervision of surgeons and are responsible for preparing surgical instruments before procedures, keeping count of surgical instruments and passing instruments to surgeons and surgical assistants. More than 50% spend their time in a standing position and standing for long hours (up to 10 hours for some surgical procedures, such as a lumbar fusion) is a significant contributor to lower back pain and pain in the other body areas.

Term: 01.06.2015 — 31.12.2018

Operating theatre nurses work in sterile zones under the supervision of surgeons and are responsible for preparing surgical instruments before procedures, keeping count of surgical instruments and passing instruments to surgeons and surgical assistants. More than 50% spend their time in a standing position and standing for long hours (up to 10 hours for some surgical procedures, such as a lumbar fusion) is a significant contributor to lower back pain and pain in the other body areas. This decrease may be a result of occupational injuries, a decrease in productivity, and an increase in treatment and medical costs.

On the one hand, the goal of the study was to survey the intensity and regional distribution of musculoskeletal pain of operating theatre nurses at the Kepler University Hospital in Linz. On the other hand, it was to investigate the effectiveness of a two-stage intervention programme consisting of awareness training of the physical stresses encountered during occupational activities as well as an exercise programme for reducing pain during occupational activity. Fifty-six individuals took part in the programme; 51 were female, and 5 were male. The average age was 40.07 years (SD= 12.07). The two groups did not differ significantly in their key characteristics. The two most common pain areas reported by all respondents were the shoulder and neck region with an average pain level of 5.62 (SD = 3.03) and the lumbar spine with an average pain level of 5.54 (SD = 3.14). The thoracic spine was in third place (3.2, SD = 3.01) followed by the knees (2.89, SD = 3.08), the hips (2.77, SD = 3.45), the hands (2.58, SD = 3.11), the feet (2.24, SD = 2.91), and finally, the elbow region (1.36, SD = 2.61).

The awareness training led to a 4% (1.1 points) increase in reported pain levels across all pain areas compared with the control group. The pain relief programme led to a 16% (4.9 points) decrease in pain levels across all pain areas compared with the control group. The first stage had a minimal effect (Cohen’s d = −0.18), whilst the corrective exercises had a medium effect (Cohen’s d = −0.45). The survey of the intensity and regional distribution of musculoskeletal pain showed similarities with the neck-, shoulder- and lower back regions. Depending on the region of the body, the literature confirms this effect on pain reduction. In conclusion, this study shows that a combination of perception training and strength training can be clinically relevant in reducing the pain of instrumental caregivers. In the sense of increasing health-related self-knowledge, all professions involving long periods of standing could benefit from such a programme.