Key Ergonomic Challenges for Surgeons—and How Good Healthcare Design Can Help

Key Ergonomic Challenges for Surgeons—and How Good Healthcare Design Can Help

Surgeons face a unique set of ergonomic challenges due to the nature of their work. While any sort of repetitive task can lead to musculoskeletal injuries, surgical work doubles the risk because it happens in constrained environments for long periods of time. Repetitive-strain injuries may be quite serious, leading to chronic pain or even an inability to work.

As surgery is a highly competitive field that also demands extreme accuracy, ergonomic design is critical to both surgeons’ and patients’ well-being. These challenges can have a significant impact on health and well-being, as well as surgeons’ ability to perform their job effectively. Here are some of the main ergonomic challenges that surgeons face:

Awkward Postures

Surgeons often have to work in constrained or contorted postures. They may be bending, twisting, and reaching for hours at a time. These positions can place stress on the neck, back, shoulders, and arms. Over time, this stress may lead to the aptly-named Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs). These musculoskeletal disorders include carpal tunnel syndrome and trigger finger, as well as chronic back and shoulder pain.
Ideally, surgeons’ work surfaces are within easy reach. The fewer times that surgeons need to bend and twist, the less strain on their upper bodies, and the lower their risk for RSIs.

Unfortunately, many operating tables, instrument trays, and other key fixtures are lacking in ergonomics. This is especially true for women surgeons, who often find themselves forced to work with equipment ill-suited to their stature.

One solution is to bring the operating table to a more ergonomic working height. It’s simpler for everyone if the patient can remain on a surgical stretcher that adjusts to the perfect height. For example, Champion’s TransMotion Collection features highly adjustable stretcher-chairs that double as a patient transport device.

Repetitive Movements

Surgeons perform dozens if not hundreds of repeated movements as they pick up and manipulate instruments every procedure. Many RSIs are essentially overuse injuries: the muscles of the hand and forearm simply aren’t designed to function in that fashion for hours at a time. Thus, surgeons are prone to conditions such as tendinitis, bursitis, and trigger finger.

Medical-instrument designers continue to find ways to make these tools more ergonomic. There’s still progress to be made, especially for women surgeons who may struggle with tools traditionally designed for larger hands.

However, the entire surgical environment should be ergonomically designed as well. Just as proper posture is important for desk workers, surgeons can reduce their risk of RSIs if they’re able to minimize bending or twisting. As previously stated, an adjustable surgical stretcher brings the patient to a more ergonomic working height.

Prolonged Standing

Surgeons typically spend long periods of time standing during procedures. This can lead to foot and leg fatigue, varicose veins, and lower back pain. Orthopedic shoes help support the feet and reduce strain on the lower body.

While it’s not always feasible to reduce the length of surgeries, an optimized surgical flow can save precious time. Greater clinical efficiency may reduce the overall hours a surgeon spends on their feet. For Repetitive-Strain Injuries, even small stresses add up throughout the day—but even minor reductions are cumulative as well!

Poor Lighting

The lighting in operating rooms can be inadequate, which may lead to eye strain and fatigue for surgeons. Most people inadvertently squint when they’re struggling to see. This is yet another awkward posture that may compound overuse injuries or cause strain on its own.

Of course, adequate lighting is the best solution, but it’s also important to configure the operating room to keep everything within lines of sight. In modern healthcare facilities, modular layouts with highly adjustable stretchers and task seating allow surgical environments to adapt to each team’s unique needs.

Champion Supports Surgeons’ Ergonomic Needs

To mitigate these ergonomic challenges, surgeons should take breaks, stretch, and perform exercises to improve their posture and strengthen their muscles. Surgical facility managers and designers can help by providing adjustable operating tables, ergonomic and gender-neutral surgical instruments, and proper lighting.
Champion’s innovative TransMotion stretcher-chairs are an excellent solution. They not only improve clinical efficiency but also support a more ergonomic working environment for surgeons. Explore the TransMotion series now.