A Nurse’s Guide To Soothing Common Aches And Pains
October 15, 2019
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(This post about managing nurse aches and pains may have affiliate links.  You can find our disclosure page here).  

Written by Deborah Swanson at allheart.com

Nursing is tough on your body – even a single shift can lead to a variety of aches and pains!

Nursing also has incredibly high rates of occupational injuries, with 19,790 nonfatal injuries and illnesses occurring in 2016 due to workplace hazards.

While not every injury is avoidable, there are certain steps that nurses can take to prevent and manage some of the most common complaints.

Here are 9 strategies that will help you manage the aches and pains that come with being a nurse:

 

#1.  Wear comfortable shoes

NIKE shoes for nurses

Nurses must wear comfortable shoes to help manage and prevent back and body pain.

Wearing comfortable nursing shoes in the proper size will go a long way towards preventing and managing foot pain. Invest in good quality shoes, even if they cost a bit more, and replace them every three to six months depending on how much you walk per shift.

If you have foot issues, such as high arches or bunions, custom orthotic inserts will help correct your walking form and accommodate the unique shape of your foot.

 

#2.  Use proper form

Nurses standing tall

Standing correctly and using proper body mechanics will help decrease the likelihood and intensity of the aches and pains that come with working 12 hour shifts as a nurse.

Walking, standing and lifting with good body mechanics will help prevent occupational injuries. Walk and stand with your head high and shoulders back to keep your spine in alignment, while keeping your feet planted firmly on the floor and your knees slightly bent.

When lifting patients or objects, use your legs and not your back, and don’t twist at the waist while holding anything. When in doubt, ask for assistance rather than risk injury to yourself.

 

#3.  Try hot and cold therapy

Nurse using hot therapy to help manage neck pain

Using hot and/or cold therapy can help manage some of the minor aches and pains that come with working long 12 hours shifts.

If you’ve ever iced a swollen ankle or soaked your stiff muscles in a warm bath, you’ve used hot and cold therapy.

Heat promotes blood flow to an area by dilating the blood vessels, while cold reduces swelling by constricting them. Just make sure to match the type of therapy to your ailments—heat will make swelling worse, for example.

Ice Pack (2-Piece Set) – Reusable Hot and Cold Therapy Gel Wrap Support
  • Adjustable hot and cold packs offer therapeutic relief for myofascial, soft tissue soreness as well as stiff joints and aching muscles.
  • Safe for the microwave and freezer to easily rotate between icing and heating injuries.
  • Keep one in the freezer and one bag with your first aid kit ready to be heated up.
  • Includes Comfort Strap

Prices and images pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on the respective Amazon site that you are redirected to at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

#4.  Book yourself a massage

If you can afford the time and money, booking yourself a massage can really help with serious muscle stiffness.

While you can massage your own feet at home, it’s hard to reach other areas like your back, which is why it helps to see a professional. You can book a standard Swedish massage or, if you can stand it, a deep tissue massage that really kneads the muscles.

Some massages also offer other add-ons such as hot stones or essential oil rubs if you’d like to treat yourself a bit.

 

#5.  Exercise and stretch regularly

female nurse doing yoga for exercise

Yoga can help relax the body and manage some aches and pains that come with working as a nurse.

The last thing you may feel like doing on your days off is exercise—but trust us, it really makes a difference.

The heat from exercise can help alleviate stiffness and soreness, and it strengthens your heart, lungs and muscles to better withstand a 12-hour shift.

For maximum benefits, you should do a mix of cardiovascular and strength training exercises, which can take many forms. Many nurses find Pilates and yoga especially beneficial for their gentle, low-impact poses and focus on core strength and proper form.

 

#6.  Wear compression stockings and sleeves

Man wearing compression socks

Compression socks and stockings can help nurses manage leg and foot swelling.

If you struggle with swollen, aching legs, compression stockings can help prevent them.

Gravity pulls down on blood, lymph and other fluids throughout the day, causing them to pool and making your legs feel tired and painful. Compression stockings provide just the right amount of graduated pressure to keep blood flowing and prevent fluids from pooling.

While compression socks are the most popular type of compression gear among nurses, if you suffer from swelling in other parts of your body—such as the upper arms—other types of sleeves and wraps are also available.

 

#7.  Consider losing weight

women on scale

Carrying extra body weight puts more pressure on joints and may cause additional body aches and pains for nurses working 12 hour shifts.

You can be unhealthy at any weight, but it’s true that carrying around excess pounds does put a lot of added pressure on your joints and muscles. Nursing already does a number on your body even if you are fit, but extra weight can compound the problem.

Losing even just a few pounds can lighten the load (literally) and help reduce inflammation and pain. Rather than trying to crash diet and lose a bunch of weight at once, focus on sustainable changes you can maintain over time. It’ll be easier to keep the weight off if you slowly transition to a permanently healthy diet rather than eating a very restrictive fad diet for a short amount of time.

 

#8.  Stay hydrated

water bottles for nurses working 12 hour shifts

Keep yourself accountable by keeping a water bottle with you at work

What if we told you there was a magical elixir you could drink that would lubricate your joints, protect sensitive tissues, regulate your body temperature, prevent kidney damage, deliver oxygen to your body, open up your airways, flush out waste and even boost skin health?

Well, that elixir exists—and it’s called water. Yep, good old H20 provides all these benefits to your health, which is why it’s so important to stay hydrated. In general, men need about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day while women need about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) a day. These fluids can come from food and other beverages as well as water. Make it a point to sip water throughout your shift as well as on your days off.

Hydro Flask 32 oz Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle
  • Meets your everyday hydration needs in one container, all while keeping it piping hot or ice cold

Prices and images pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on the respective Amazon site that you are redirected to at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

#9.  Pay attention to warning signs

nurse foot pain

Don’t ignore aches and pains as a nurse, especially if they are not getting better with rest.

Don’t ignore your aches and pains. That’s how they develop into chronic problems. If you notice yourself developing the same symptoms over and over again after a shift, take action rather than waiting for them to become “something serious.” As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and you don’t want to risk developing a serious chronic condition that will impair your ability to do your nursing job or forces you to go on medical leave (or worse, make a career change entirely). If you take care of your body, in many cases, it will take care of you.

In conclusion

Nursing is hard on your physical health, but you don’t have to take it lying down—er, standing up. Follow these nine preventive tips to help fend off common aches and pains that often follow a 12-hour shift.

And always take care of yourself first, nurse!

 

About The Author

Debbie Swanson, Real Caregivers Program at allheart.com

Deborah Swanson is a Coordinator for the Real Caregivers Program at allheart.com – a site dedicated to celebrating medical professionals and their journeys.  She keeps busy by interviewing caregivers and writing about them and loves gardening.

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