Lack of empathy and advice for nurses at work can make their back pain worse

An unsupportive workplace exacerbates musculoskeletal disorders, a study of nurses found

An unsupportive workplace exacerbates musculoskeletal disorders, a study of nurses found

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Feeling unsupported at work not only feels unfair – it could also affect your physical health, a study suggests.

Back pain is believed to account for about 40% of sickness absence in the NHS, and nurses have been long identified as at particular risk because of patient moving and handling.

But researchers claim that feeling unsupported in their organisation can cause nurses' tempers to flare and has a bearing on both physical and emotional health.

Unfair distribution of support makes nurses angry

A study by Michigan State and Portland State Universities in the United States claims nurses can become angry if there is is an imbalance of support among them. These feelings of anger can exacerbate musculoskeletal disorders such as pain in the shoulders, arms, hands and lower back.

The study surveyed more than 400 nurses in two hospitals from 29 different units to further explore the effect psychological factors in work had on physical health. It found that when nurses believed they should receive a uniform level of support, tempers rose if an imbalance occurred.

Chu-Hsiang Chang, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State led the study and said: ‘These types of musculoskeletal disorders often are worsened by feelings of anger.

‘Hospitals need to implement strategies and interventions designed to improve the social environment for nurses. Doing so may not only improve psychological well-being and reduce their stress, but also promote their physical health.’

Empathy, guidance or a helping hand

The authors reported types of support may include empathy and concern, offers of advice, guidance, suggestions or a helping hand.

Dr Chang said hospitals use a variety of solutions to address injuries, but they focus more on physical job tasks than social elements to eliminate risk.

‘Ensuring fair treatment or distribution of workload in a social context could be a good strategy that can reduce feelings of anger and ultimately, have an indirect effect on reducing injury complaints too,’ she said.

Further information

Social Support Exchange and Nurses’ Musculoskeletal Injuries in a Team Context: Anger as a Mediator

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