My Back Hurts…

Back pain is very common during medical training.   All doctors spend time leaning over beds …. some of us (e.g. surgeons) more than others.  Back pain for most physicians is about core fatigue.  When you lean over for any length of time you are supported by your core muscles.  When the core muscles begin to fatigue, you transfer the job of holding the position to your joints (spine, hips, knees) and the muscles of your back.  So – the most important way to prevent or get rid of back pain is core training.   Crunches alone won’t do it – they just work the muscles in one direction.  What causes our pain is twisting with bending over.  You need a set of exercises that strengthen your core in more than one direction.  A great way to strengthen your core (if you have time for the classes) is doing yoga, pilates, or tai chi.  But (assuming you don’t really have time for classes), commit to 5 minutes a day of core exercises and I bet you’ll see a difference.  Needless to say, we’re talking about “ordinary” back pain here.  If you have symptoms of radicular pain, weakness or paresthesias go see a doctor!!!

Here’s some urls with good illustrations of functional (i.e. all directions) core exercises

One other really important thing – make sure you use a good technique if you have to lift a patient (or any other heavy object) i.e. face the object (no twisting) and use your legs, not your back.

For surgeons, you can do a few things in the operating room that will help.  This list is from an article I published last December (Am J Surg. 2009 Dec;198(6):742-7. PMID: 19969123)

All surgery

  • Set the table height at the level of the umbilicus of the tallest assistant/surgeon and use standing stools for all other personnel

Open surgery

  • For long cases that require torsion of the back (pelvic surgery, head and neck surgery), change positions often; raise or lower the bed slightly; switch sides; and stretch periodically

Laparoscopic surgery

  • Place the monitors so they are directly in front of the operating surgeon/assistant, the goal is to avoid any twisting of the neck for the surgeon or assistants
  • Place the monitors in laparoscopic surgery slightly below eye level (15° is best) to have a slight head-down gaze
  • Use enough standing stools to provide a large enough platform for foot pedals (2 deep, 2 wide if necessary)
  • Once the trocars are in place, lower the table (or add standing stools) so the operating surgeon has relaxed shoulders
  • Avoid positioning foot pedals so the surgeon has to stand on one foot; even better, switch to the most ergonomic possible hand control

2 thoughts on “My Back Hurts…

  1. This is so true!! Great advice for the OR. Also, I’ve found good shoes can do wonders to help avoid back pain (rather than worn out sneakers).

Leave a Reply