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Lifting: Safety Tips to Avoid Back Injury

Musculoskeletal injuries from overexertion in caregiving occupation are one of the common among the common problems of caregivers due to unsafe or improper way of lifting their patients. Regardless of the weight, a caregiver must know the proper ways and tips to ensure back safety.

In 2003, eleven states in USA have enacted "safe patient handling" laws or promulgated rules / regulations. Of those, nine states require a comprehensive program in health care facilities, in which there is established policy, guidelines for securing appropriate equipment and training, collection of data, and evaluation. United Kingdom and Canada has also the same law which protects the health care providers and ensure their safety. It is even punishable by law to manually lift your patient. 

The greatest risk factor for overexertion injuries in caregivers is the manual lifting, moving and repositioning of patients. It is known that not all employers provides a "Lifter" or a "Semi-electric bed" (hospital bed) which can greatly help to lessen the load for caregivers especially those who are working at home. However, caregivers in geriatric hospitals are considered lucky because they can most likely benefit from the equipments which are available for them to use. 

But, home-based caregivers who are working "live-in" can actually ensure their safety and avoid injuries if they know how to properly position themselves while they are lifting or repositioning their clients/patients.

In this article, we will discuss in full details the most importance of Back Safety and Safe Patient Handling.

Overview of your Back and Spine:

Your back is made up of bones, muscles, ligaments and other things. The spine is the part of your back that is made of bones. Your spine is made up of 24 bones, called vertebrae. These bones are placed one on top of another. Each one of these bones is separated from the next one with a soft cushion called a disc. Discs are made up of cartilage. These discs help your back twist, bend and move around. Your back is supported mostly by your stomach muscles. It is also supported by the muscles and ligaments of the back.

How to Prevent Back Injuries:

1. Assess your Lifting Limitations - this most apply on people with back problems or injuries before they even started working as health care provider.

2. Use appopriate tools or equipments - Lifter, back support belt, sliding board, walker or crane are the most common tools that you can use. 

3. Communication - If you client is still capable of helping and assisting you in lifting, then it's important to inform him/her of what you are going to do (Lift, transfer or rolling over). Teaching your patient how to do it properly can signficantly help. Ex: "Mr. Smith, I am going to move you up in the bed. Please bend your knees and put your heels into the mattress. When I count to 3, push your heels into the mattress and lift up your backside and push your body toward the top of the bed.” Your client can take as much as 50% of the his/her body weight. 

4. Stretching and Exercise - Some of the exercise that you can do to prevent back injuries are swimming, running, jogging, walking, rowing, muscle strengthening and stretching exercises. These sports and exercises are good for the back. 

5. Choose the strongest side - Consider your patient's condition. If he/she is Hemiplegic (half body paralyzed) due to stroke, cerebral palsy or other spinal injury, you have to find his/her strongest side. That is where you would put the weight in transfering your patient from one place to another. Always remember, do not jerk or suddenly pull your client up. You have to be both ready before pulling or lifting and it should always go with "count of three" rule.

6. Get help if you need it - If your client starts to fall, lower him or her gently on the floor and if you think you can not lift them from the floor, get secondary help. 

7. Observe proper body mechanics - Stay as close as possible to the person that you are about to lift. Face the person, tuck your chin in and keep your back, neck and head straight up and down. Keep your feet wide apart so that you have a wide base of support. 

8. Lift with your legs - Use the long and strong muscles of your legs to lift. Do NOT use the muscles of your back to lift. Pivot on your feet in the direction of the move. If you are moving a person from the bed to the chair, stand with your feet wide apart and pivot from facing the bed to facing the chair, in the direction of the move. Do NOT twist. Pivot and keep your spine, or back, straight.

9. Take a break - Take small breaks between lifts. Take a deep breath and rest for a moment.

10. Post exercise - After lifting, carefully do some back stretches and small exercises. 


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