Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation





First Advisor

Dr. Terry A. Lennie

Second Advisor

Dr. Nora Warshawsky


Back injury in nursing is a significant concern for the health of the worker, the costs to the healthcare system, and the safety of the patients. Current injury prevention measures include ergonomic adjustments to the work environment, the use of mechanical lifting equipment, policies to limit manual handling of patients, and the teaching of lifting techniques. These measures have been met with limited success in reducing injury rates. Little is known about whether changing the lifting biomechanics used in the healthcare setting can lower high injury rates across the profession.

The purposes of this dissertation were to: 1) identify the biomechanical risk factors routinely encountered by healthcare workers during the performance of their daily job tasks and 2) determine whether nurses with formal training in weightlifting have better biomechanical performance during routine nursing tasks than nurses with no training. This dissertation included the development of a conceptual model to guide the research. The framework identified the impact of muscle fatigue on the biomechanics used in lifting and moving of heavy equipment and patients. The worker characteristics that affect muscle fatigue include age, gender, height, BMI and the type of recreational activities outside of the workplace. These characteristics were controlled for in two studies aimed at providing a greater understanding of biomechanics used by nurses during routine patient care related activities.

The first study addressed a gap in knowledge related to the biomechanics of lifting techniques used by nurses in the work environment, specifically of the anterior rotation of the trunk and pelvis, angles of the hips, knees, and lumbar spine, and muscle activation of core and leg muscles used during patient care activities. We analyzed the biomechanics used by 11 senior level nursing students lifting a simulated patient attached to a rigid spine board from the floor to a standing height. Previous studies have identified that a lumbar spine angle in excess of 22.5 degrees flexion when performing a lift places a worker at a greater risk for back injury.

Biomechanical risk factors effecting this lumbar spine angle identified in this study included the anterior rotation of the trunk and pelvis in the starting position of the lift, the angle of the hips and knees during the lifting cycle, the dominate muscle activation of the rectus femoris during the lifting cycle influencing the anterior pelvic rotation, and minimal activation of the core muscles required to add stability to the spine during the lift.

This dissertation identifies common biomechanical risk factors routinely encountered by healthcare workers, and gives indication of differences between nurses with formal weightlifting training and those that have not received formal weightlifting training. The differences in body positioning and core stabilization can help reduce the biomechanical risks of back injury in nursing.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)