Preventing back injury while working as a Personal Support Worker

Back injuries are a major occupational hazard for Personal Support Workers (PSW). There are ways to prevent these back injuries and enjoy a safe, healthy, happy, fulfilling career.

The duties of a personal support worker are to assist elderly and disabled individuals with activities of daily living including bathing, grooming and toileting. This includes everything from washing and combing hair to helping manage incontinence issues and clean up. PSW’s job description also includes help with patient or resident ambulation, movement and repositioning.

 This is where back injuries occur most often.

 Not only are workers sometimes lifting the partial or whole weight of another person, often that patient or resident can be struggling or working against you.


Body Mechanics

Back Exercises

Good body mechanics is the first line of defense against back injury. This means the way you position your own body and use your own weight to move and lift patients or clients.

The first rule is to get assistance whenever possible. It is always better to have two people repositioning a patient or client or transferring them from bed to chair or chair to chair. In some instances it is actually impossible to transfer a patient alone.

Keep in mind the following techniques when lifting another person or helping them stand or transfer:

  • Always have your own feet flat on the floor and shoulder width apart when possible, have one foot in front of another. This gives stability.
  • Bend your knees, that is, let your legs help lift the weight.
  • Always keep the weight you are lifting close to you.
  • Do not twist your spine, move your feet instead.
  • Your toes should always point in the direction of the weight you are lifting.
  • Keep your head and shoulders erect and your hips tucked under.
  • Lift smoothly, never with a jerky movement.
  • Always tell the person you are transferring what you are doing. That way, if they are capable, they can be cooperative and won’t be frightened and work against you.

When repositioning a patient or client in the bed, the personal support worker (PSW) should, whenever possible, use a pushing rather than a pulling motion. To avoid PSW back injury keep your arms close to your own body with elbows bent. Use your own body weight to push, not just your arm strength with arms outstretched.


Back Exercises

A personal support worker can also avoid back injury by exercising. One exercise starts with lying on your back with feet flat on the floor — knees bent. Use both hands to pull one knee close to your chest. Hold for a count of 15. Return to start position then do the same with the opposite leg.

Another one begins by sitting upright on an armless chair. Cross right leg over left leg. Brace left elbow against right knee and twist and stretch to the side. Repeat to the other side. These exercises are designed to stretch and strengthen the lower back.

Image credit: Used under a Creative Commons Attribution from Sombilon Art, Media and Photography on Flickr.



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Avlin is passionate about helping aspirants become better personal support workers. He is an entrepreneur and runs a clinic in Toronto.

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