Surgical Ergonomics: Addressing Musculoskeletal Disorders and Improving Surgeon Well-being

May 30, 2024

Surgical Ergonomics: Addressing Musculoskeletal Disorders and Improving Surgeon Well-being

Due to the nature of their jobs, surgeons experience a very high rate of musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs. Unfortunately, surgeons’ MSDs often go unreported, and making it difficult to know how to manage these issues.

We all experience pain or injuries in our muscles or joints at some point in our lives. But what if the pain you’re experiencing is related to your job?

The Toll of Musculoskeletal Disorders on Surgeons

Surgical Ergonomics

Poor posture, ill-fitting equipment, and restrictions in spaces all increase the risk surgeons have of developing musculoskeletal disorders.

Surgeons spend long periods of time in fixed postures as they typically perform multiple surgeries each day or they may have a long case lasting hours. With a large medical team and equipment required space is often very limited in the operating room. This limits surgeons from moving easily in the environment, frequently forcing them to contort themselves into awkward positions. Combined with the long periods of standing or sitting, this can lead to ongoing pain in the lower back, shoulders, and neck.

The frequent pain surgeons experience has a huge impact not only on them, but also the healthcare system as well.  This can lead costly medical treatment, prescription drugs, or therapy, decreased job performance, absenteeism, or even early retirement.

Different Disciplines, Different Equipment, Different Concerns

Though the majority of surgeons experience pain in similar areas of the body, causes may vary. Surgeons who perform laparoscopy procedures, for example, use long-handled tools. If the operating table is too high, they might need to shrug their showers or elevate their elbows to accommodate this uncomfortable working height. 

Ophthalmologists, on the other hand, must use large, mounted microscopes which are often incorrectly positioned. To accommodate, they must hyperextend their necks. Furthermore, they sit for most of their procedures; this presents an additional MSD risk if their chair isn’t adjusted to the proper height or does not adequately fit them.

Part of the issue is the lack of education surrounding ergonomics among surgeons. Almost 90 per cent of surgeons reported being unaware of ergonomic guidelines; 45 per cent stated they did not have any formal education in ergonomics.

So, what can be done?  Currently, there is targeted ergonomics training for surgical residents delivered in many facilities in the U.S. If a facility is large enough, they may have an ergonomist that can assist with evaluation and identification of interventions. 

I recently started coaching with Dr. Geeta Lal, an Endocrine Surgeon specializing in educating others on surgical ergonomics.  In two virtual sessions, we meet with a surgeon to specifically explore opportunities to identify and manage risk for developing discomfort.  Coaching sessions include review of challenging activities both in and out of the OR.  The interactive session helps the surgeon to identify strategies that they believe can be implemented associated with their environment and nature of work.  Consider reaching out to Surgical Ergonomics to explore our services.

EWI Works offers many services that can improve your quality of life. We have developed several cost-effective remote services to help you transition to remote work. Find out more about our Online Training, Services, and Resources. 

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