Oct. 1, 2018

Designing and testing a wearable intervention to reduce lower back pain in registered nurses

Dr. Linda Duffett-Leger explores how wearable technologies can be used to help reduce the risk by helping nurses to monitor and manage their back health

Did you know that nurses experience more back injuries on the job than construction workers? According to Linda Duffett-Leger, back injury costs the health-care system over a billion dollars a year, many nurses their careers and contributes to a worldwide shortage of nurses. Her interdisciplinary PAIN study (Protecting Against Injury in Nurses) explores how wearable technologies can be used to help reduce the risk.

“As a nurse, I often see in clinical settings or community settings, health-care problems that can be addressed with a technological solution,” she says. “What we’re seeing is that back injuries are occurring as a result of nurses not using proper body mechanics.”

In the multi-phased pilot study, 236 undergraduate nursing students shared baseline information with the PAIN team about their history of musculoskeletal injuries. The researchers examined the use of a wearable posture device with students as they performed lifts and transfers in the lab. The device provided haptic feedback, buzzing when the user was not in the correct posture, and recorded data like steps taken in a day and time spent in good posture. A team of computer science students then worked with the students and PAIN team to develop a working iOS app prototype for the wearable device.

By investigating how wearables can be used across the spectrum, Duffett-Leger aims to provide nursing students and new nurses a learning tool to help prevent back injuries; offer health-care administrators information about the health of their employees in order to target early interventions; and guide injured nurses safely back to the workplace without incurring further injury.

“Nursing has this culture of self-sacrifice. What we want to do with the technology is to empower nurses to better monitor and maintain their back health, mitigating back injury before it happens.”

What's next: Students will pilot software to explore that transition period from nursing education to practice and are looking at using social media campaigns to disseminate research findings.