Ergonomics for Healthcare Professionals: Positioning for Different Surfaces

I want to write about ergonomics for healthcare professionals not only because it is important to take care of our body, but it also plays a vital role in patients’ safety.  Proper body positioning is crucial to avoid injuries and to protect our patients. In addition, this allows us to assist our patients throughout the task to help them perform at their best.

physical therapy transfer

 Posture while Performing Transfer:

This can vary depending on the type of transfer and surface the patient is being transferred. The rule of thumb is, you never want to lift or carry a patient, you are mainly assisting and guiding from key areas of their body. By doing this, you are helping them to learn the movement as well as strengthening neural connections.

Here are some points to consider.

Before Initiating Transfer:

  • Have patient and surface ready – eg. taking off wheelchair leg rests, get rid of clutter from the surface (mat), etc.
  • Keep your equipment (like sliding board) ready and within reach
  • Always have a gait belt on to prevent pulling on clothes
  • Ask for a spotter, if you need one.
  • Make sure your patient has shoes or non-skid socks on (unless recommended otherwise medically)
  • Explain the patient and spotter/helper what are you going to do and what you are expecting them to do.
  • Adjust the height of the surface. This can vary depending on the type of transfer and medical status of the patient. In ideal case scenario, you want to transfer/slide from a higher to a lower surface.

During the Transfers:

  • Bend your knees and not waist
  • Have a wide base of support
  • Shift your weight throughout the transfer training – Weight shifting should be in the same direction of patient moving/ transferring.
  • Always transfer on patient’s strong side unless you are practicing to use affected/weaker side.
  • Provide appropriate cues as needed. Excessive cues can be an overload of stimulation and may confuse patients. Also, know what kind of cues (verbal, tactile, visual) work best with your patients. Every patient is different and so is the learning style!!

Surface We Sit on:

This is usually an exercise stool. Many times we, PTs (or a majority of healthcare professionals for that matter), have rolling stool or stool with wheels. The stool should be high enough that our feet touch the floor with both knees bent around 90 degrees.  Our upper body should also be straight – no bending forward etc.

Surface Our Patient is On:

This is usually a bed or mat. Make sure the height of the mat is at least at waist height. This way you won’t have to bend forward. It is a good idea to have a patient on the treatment table, exercise mat or hospital bed. We can adjust the height of these surfaces based on our needs. Having a stepping stool is also a safe option for elderly patients.

Provide appropriate support to head and neck of the patient. Raising the head up is crucial for cardiopulmonary and neurological disorders to prevent hyperextension of the neck. You can raise the head of the patient either by raising the head of bed or mat or by placing a therapy bolster under patient’s head. Checking vitals before and after the treatment should be a norm of the practice.

Equipment for documentation:

We all need to document and read the records. Each profession may be using a different technology. It helps to use proper sitting ergonomics while using laptops or desktops to document. A standing workstation is another good option to consider. We should also be following correct ergonomics for lifting and carrying heavy objects while working.

We, as Healthcare professionals work hard to take care of our patients on a daily basis.  Therefore, it is crucial that we take care of ourselves as well.  Hope this article helps improve your day to day work and prevent the typical aches and pains that are common in the profession!!

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NOTE: The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, dietary supplement, exercise, or other health program.