Reducing musculoskeletal symptoms in health-care workers

In Brief

  • Multi-component patient handling interventions can improve musculoskeletal (MSK) health among health-care workers. These interventions should include: a policy change at the worksite; implementation of new lift/transfer equipment; and broad-based training on the new equipment.
  • Exercise training programs can improve MSK health.
  • Training alone has no effect on MSK symptoms.

Published: January 2010

Why was this review done?

Injury rates for health-care workers are equal to those in industries traditionally thought of as hazardous. Musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries and disorders are particularly common for health-care workers who perform patient-lifting activities. Many approaches to reducing MSK symptoms are already in place, including exercise programs and mechanical lifts. However, it is important to review studies on the effectiveness of such approaches.

How was the review done?

A team of international researchers reviewed existing studies of occupational health and safety interventions in health-care settings. The initial search included peer-reviewed articles published between 1980 and 2006. An updated search included articles for the period 2006 to 2009. At each stage, stakeholders from the health-care sector helped to shape the research question, key definitions and search terms.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found 16 studies from 1980-2006 that met the relevance and quality criteria. Together, these studies provided moderate evidence that exercise and multi-component patient handling interventions had a positive effect on MSK health. The updated search for 2006-2009 retrieved three additional studies. These provided moderate evidence that, when used alone, patient handling training and cognitive behavioural training had no effect on MSK health. (Cognitive behavioural training targets attitudes and beliefs in an effort to change behaviour). None of the interventions were harmful.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the review?

A strength is that by inviting stakeholder participation, it ensured the review was relevant for those who worked in the health-care sector. A limitation is that researchers did not necessarily contact the authors of the studies to ask questions or clarify findings.