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Musculoskeletal pain among critical-care nurses by availability and use of patient lifting equipment: An analysis of cross-sectional survey data



Patient handling is a major risk factor for musculoskeletal injuries among nurses. Lifting equipment is a main component of safe patient handling programs that aim to prevent musculoskeletal injury. However, the actual levels of lift availability and usage are far from optimal.


To examine the effect of patient lifting equipment on musculoskeletal pain by level of lift availability and lift use among critical-care nurses.

Design and participants

A cross-sectional postal survey of a random sample of 361 critical-care nurses in the United States.


The survey collected data on low-back, neck, and shoulder pain, lift availability, lift use, physical and psychosocial job factors, and sociodemographics. Musculoskeletal pain was assessed by three types of measures: any pain, work-related pain, and major pain. Multivariable logistic regressions were used to examine the associations between musculoskeletal pain and lift variables, controlling for demographic and job factors.


Less than half (46%) of respondents reported that their employer provided lifts. Of 168 nurses who had lifts in their workplace, the level of lift availability was high for 59.5%, medium for 25.0%, and low for 13.7%; the level of lift use was high for 32.1%, medium for 31.5%, and low for 31.5%. Significant associations were found between lift availability and work-related low-back and shoulder pain. Compared to nurses without lifts, nurses reporting high-level lift availability were half as likely to have work-related low-back pain (OR=0.50, 95% CI 0.26-0.96) and nurses reporting medium-level lift availability were 3.6 times less likely to have work-related shoulder pain (OR=0.28, 95% CI 0.09-0.91). With respect to lift use, work-related shoulder pain was three times less common among nurses reporting medium-level use (OR=0.33, 95% CI 0.12-0.93); any neck pain was three times more common among nurses reporting low-level use (OR=3.13, 95% CI 1.19-8.28).


Greater availability and use of lifts were associated with less musculoskeletal pain among critical-care nurses. These findings suggest that for lift interventions to be effective, lifts must be readily available when needed and barriers against lift use must be removed.

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