If there is one thing that will stop your EMS career in its tracks, a back injury is sure to do it. Lifting patients on a daily basis is part of the job description for field medics and if you can't do that, then all your clinical skills are not going to help you one iota when it comes to providing patient care. Protecting this part of your anatomy is vital to your employability. However, even with the best will in the world, the demands placed on your body during an average shift can be rigorous to say the least, which means you have to be more than proactive when watching your back.
According to a survey by the National Association of EMTs, nearly half of the 1,356 respondents had sustained a back injury while performing EMS duties, yet only one in five ranked their personal safety as their No. 1 concern about their EMS work. As some back injuries may equate to a pink slip, it is clear that providers need to start putting their personal health at the top of their to-do lists.
In this issue's cover report, authors Greg Friese and Keith Owsley discuss how to practice safe lifting techniques in the field, as well as what you need to do to ensure your back is in the best shape possible. Next month, EMS Magazine Editorial Advisory Board member Thom Dick will continue the coverage of this topic with an article that outlines the lift testing procedure his agency put in place to verify that potential new hires can lift the loads required of them.
Some of the ways to help avoid a back injury outlined by Greg and Keith in Backbreaking Work on page 63 include keeping the patient's weight close to your body and lifting without twisting whenever possible; standing with your feet shoulder width apart with knees flexed or bent; and maintaining normal back curvature during a lift.
Finally, keeping your own weight in check will go a long way toward ensuring your back safety. As excess weight puts undue stress on your back, you are at increased risk for injury if you are carrying a few extra pounds of your own.