Emergency Medical Services (EMS) professionals have become the primary healthcare providers for citizens in many communities across the Country. EMTs and paramedics often find themselves in challenging situations which put tremendous strain on their mental as well as physical health.
Most recently prehospital literature has focused on the mental well-being of the EMS provider. There has also been an emphasis on provider safety with regards to active shooter and violent reference calls.
With all of these issues swelling about there seems to be a drifting away from the most basic of self-care issues; the risk of physical injury in the performance of everyday tasks.
Throughout the course of an average shift the EMS provider, like most healthcare workers, experience moments of overexertion, overextension, and body motion injuries which can have a significant impact on the provider’s overall health.
In this blog post, we delve into the facets of overexertion, explore the implications of body motion injuries, and discuss preventive measures EMS professionals can adopt to help reduce the risk of serious injury and maintain a rewarding, long-term career.
Numbers don’t lie:
According to an article published by Gold Cross Ambulance, EMS work-related injuries can be broken down into four major categories.
- Overexertion and Body Motion
- Exposure to Harmful Substances
- Slips, Trips and Falls
- Motor Vehicle Accidents
Statistically these four groups tell a profound story based upon the percentage of occurrence for each with overexertion and body motion being the highest at 28%. (Gold Cross Ambulance Service, July 19, 2022)
Overexertion injuries are described as those which occur when the physical demand of a task surpasses a person’s physical capacity to perform it. For EMS professionals, these injuries typically stem from lifting and handling heavy patients or equipment, prolonged physical exertion, or performing physically demanding tasks under stressful conditions.
Root causes of Body Motion Injuries
Body motion injuries among EMS professionals usually occur due to improper lifting, twisting, bending, or reaching motions during patient care. These injuries can be profound and often lead to both short-term and long-term disabilities.
Common Body Motion Injuries
Back Injuries are most common among healthcare professionals, specifically nurses and EMS professionals, and most frequently occur due to lifting and handling of patients.
Back injuries account for more than 20% of all workplace injuries in the United States and are a particular problem in EMS, where at any given time nearly 10% of the workforce is out of work due to back injuries.
Overreaching or improperly lifting heavy objects can strain the shoulder muscles and ligaments, leading to chronic pain or rotator cuff injuries.
Over time frequent kneeling and squatting often results in knee pain and injuries such as torn ligaments or meniscus damage.
Consequences of work-related injuries
According to a study published in PubMedCentral the average EMS worker loses 11 days per year due to work related injuries. (Inj Prev. 2021 Apr; 27, PubMedCentral).
Nearly 25% of all EMS workers experience career-ending back injuries within the first four years of their career. (EMS Back Injury Facts. www.mytactical.com)
– Musculoskeletal Disorders: EMS professionals are excessively prone to both short and long-term musculoskeletal disorders due to the repetitive and physically demanding nature of their work. Such issues, if unresolved or not properly managed can have disabling consequences.
– Chronic Pain: Continuous overexertion can lead to long-term pain in the back, shoulders, and neck, adversely affecting the quality of life and work performance. Such situations can dramatically shorten an EMS provider’s career.
– Burnout: When we think of burnout we often think of the emotional toll the job can take on EMS providers. However, chronic physical pain can also contribute to emotional stress, which, when coupled with the inherent psychological pressures of EMS work, can lead to burnout.
Tips for a long and healthy career
Training and Education
Success in overcoming the risks of physical injury begins with awareness and training. Training on proper use of body mechanics for lifting and moving patients should be a regular and mandatory part of EMS training. Focus on lifting with the legs rather than the back and developing techniques for using a wide, stable stance when moving patients.
Additionally, being distracted or “not in the right frame of mind” can put an individual at risk. Incorporating stress management techniques and resilience training to help EMS professionals cope with the psychological aspects of their work can have a tremendous impact on reducing physical injuries as well.
Equipment and Ergonomics
Much progress has been made, over the past two decades, in developing ergonomically effective equipment and devices to help protect the provider. The proper use of assistive devices such as mechanical lifting aids, power stretchers and loaders, back braces, and slide boards can have dramatic impact in reducing physical strain.
While not a short-term fix, optimizing the layout and design of EMS vehicles and workspaces to minimize bending, reaching, and twisting and safely secure the occupants during transport can also yield tremendous results.
Health and Wellness Programs
Develop physical fitness programs which includes strength training, flexibility, and cardiovascular health to increase the physical capabilities and resilience of EMS professionals.
Develop a solid understanding of what you are or are not capable of doing. Don’t be afraid to admit you need help to perform a challenging task.
There tends to be a negative connotation to work-related injuries. Too often we deny injury or simply write it off until it becomes unbearable. At that point the damage may be too far gone.
Practice good personal health and wellness including nutrition, exercise, and sleep. Such practices prepare the body to endure occasionally excessive physical stresses.
It’s not inevitable
Overexertion and body motion injuries are an omnipresent risk for EMS professionals. They can cause lost work days, impede one’s ability to lead a happy and quality life and in many cases can cut an otherwise successful career short.
While not completely preventable, such scenarios are avoidable. Through proper training, ergonomics, assistive devices, and health and wellness programs, the risks associated with these injuries can be significantly reduced. By taking care of ourselves and employing simple techniques for prevention and resilience we can enjoy long, healthy careers thereby ensuring our communities and citizens continue to receive the best possible lifesaving services.