How Retracting Tissue is Injuring Nurses in Operating Rooms


Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are prevalent among workers. These disorders are characterised by injuries and conditions affecting vital areas such as the back, limbs, and joints. They usually result from strenuous manual labour, such as crouching often, repetitive movements, and carrying out a task for an extended period. One health professional does all these movements on a regular basis: the operating room or surgical nurse. As such, they’re among the professionals most likely to be MSD patients.

One major task contributing to MSD in the surgical nurse is retracting tissue. Here’s more about how it impacts nurses and what can be done to mitigate its effects.

How retracting tissue affects operating room nurses

We’ve previously discussed that the expanded role of a surgical nurse includes assisting in surgeries and taking roles at ambulatory surgery centres. These tasks involve a lot of physical labour, including retracting tissue. This involves holding an incision open with tools so a surgeon can perform a procedure. Surgeries can take a few minutes to hours, so nurses must stay crouched and hold incisions open for prolonged periods of time. Their hands can get strained from holding equipment like retractors at the right angle and pressure to avoid unnecessarily harming the patient. This puts them at a higher risk of developing MSDs and may compromise their ability to deliver quality healthcare consistently.

Solutions for operating room nurses

Ergonomic training at the student and staff levels

Ergonomic training involves educating surgical nursing students and staff on procedures that prevent injury and strain. This includes stretching before an operation, properly handling equipment to avoid hand strain, and post-surgery musculoskeletal self-care. Surgical nursing students can request these from their institution if such training is not readily available. Meanwhile, it is a health facility employer’s responsibility to provide this training to its surgical nurses.

Improving the operating room with ergonomic surgical equipment

Implementing these improvements can further complement the ergonomic training provided to surgical nurses. In offices, ergonomic chairs and tables can help them practise better posture and prevent pain. There is also some ergonomic equipment you can consider using in the operating room.

One is the Galaxy II single-use surgical retractor developed by our team here at June Medical. As a self-retaining tool, it requires fewer staff to be on hand during a procedure. Meanwhile, it’s designed so that the nurses who do stay in the OR need not strain their hands and fingers to apply the right amount of pressure and keep an incision open. Another tool you can consider is the portable universal operating table. This can be adjusted to precise angles and heights, so nurses avoid bending their backs when assisting surgeons or attending to the patient.

Spotting the signs of fatigue and burnout in nurses

Fatigue and burnout can be hard to spot because nurses may perceive these conditions as regular stress, especially in typically high-stress environments like operating rooms. Over time, the pain in their back, limbs, and hands can affect the quality of their work and harm patient outcomes in the long run. It may even lead nurses to quit for their well-being, which can be costly for a medical institution.

This is why employers need to know the difference between burnout and a dead end. Burnout results from prolonged physical, mental, and emotional stress. Meanwhile, hitting a dead end means realising the incompatibility of your career option. By knowing this distinction, employers can protect their surgical nurses’ mental health while preventing turnover that may be caused by burnout and not a dead end. They can then practise early intervention by consulting an injury prevention specialist or implementing job rotation models that distribute the strain of retracting tissue across nurses.

Nurses in operating rooms face health issues that can lead to MSD. With these solutions, you can lower cases of injuries amongst these health professionals and improve their overall performance in your institution’s ORs. If you liked this article, read more of our work here at June Medical.


Exclusively written for JUNE MEDICAL

By: Rhonda Jaliyah


Also read about our take on Robots in Surgery or why Founder and Owner Angela Spang became Most Compassionate Leader by CIO today