Ergonomics + Health tips for the Sonographer

I think one of the most frequently asked questions I get (from students, new grads & current sonographers) is about injuries. You might be rolling your eyes at this and wondering how on earth can a sonographer get injured when all they do is take images on a machine. Welllllll, that is precisely how. I would say almost every sonographer I have met has experienced SOME type of pain from the job — whether it’s carpal tunnel, tendinitis, shoulder/elbow/wrist pain, or just general tension + knots built up in their neck and shoulders. In fact, I have read on multiple sonogrpaher forums about the amount of surgeries people have had due to injuries related to chronic pain from scanning. It’s scary to think about as someone who is not even 5 years in.

Now, before I have you running away form your sonography program because you think this is job is going to lead you to a life full of pain — lets slow your roll right here and dive in a little deeper. First of all, with any job that you are sitting, and doing the same thing with your hands over & over, all day, every day, you are bound to develop some type of pain. For example, people who have been doing desk / computer work for a few years will probably say they’ve developed some degree of carpal tunnel. Same thing with cooks, hairdressers, or any job where you are bending or pushing on your wrist & making repetitive small movements.   So, is it common to have work-related pain as a sonographer? Absolutely.  Is it preventable? Yes. But it takes a daily, conscious effort. I think any sonographer can tell you that they have learned how to take care of their bodies along the way, and would give anything to go back and take care of them like this from the start of their careers. So, if you’re fairly new to the field — READ THIS and implement it … then do more research! Knowledge on this topic could quite honestly save your career down the line.

Here’s the top few ways I take care of myself at work:

  1. Stretch

Again, this may sound a little intense, but I promise it will help. Back when I worked at In-N-Out, there was a group of stretches that were MANDATORY to perform before you were allowed to start your shift. Yes, shaking french fry baskets and flipping burger patties require a little bit of wrist stretching too! You don’t need to work in construction to injure a muscle or develop carpal tunnel. Stretching your wrists, elbows, arms/shoulders & back before & during work helps warm up your muscles and prepare them for the work ahead & reduce the risk of injury.

2.  Alternate sitting & standing

This is something I am still working on! If you are blessed with a chair in your room (ha!) it can be very tempting and often times, more comfortable, to sit while you scan. However, if you’re anything like me, you occasionally will have exams you know would be better/easier on your arm if you stood, but you’re lazy and like to sit. Haha. It’s really important to step back, take a second to map out how far you’re going to have to reach your arm, how far away your elbow is going to be from your body, etc. You wanna keep your shoulders down, and elbow as close to your side as possible. If that means standing, get up! I personally am trying to train myself to stand for vascular exams, especially the left leg, where I know I’ll be reaching over the patients entire right side to scan.

3. DO NOT PUSH.

If I could go back and tell myself anything as a student it would be this! I would tattoo it on my wrist, write it on my screen, chant it while I scan, you get the picture! LOL. Whyyyyyy this isn’t taught more as you are learning to scan, I could not tell you. But I am here to tell you if no one else has — DO NOT PUSH down hard on your patients. I know sometimes you feel like you are so close to getting “that” angle, “that” picture — if you just hang tight for a few more seconds in that uncomfortable position. Let me tell you –those “few” seconds add up and suddenly you’ll find your wrist a little sore on the weekends, or your elbow starting to hurt when you’re washing your hair. It adds up! Do NOT push down. Loosen your grip on the probe & stop pushing down. Its not worth breaking your arm to get the picture, I promise.

 

4.  Ask for Help // Know your Limits

I have learned this the hard way for sure. I don’t know why but I definitely tried to do everything on my own when I first became a sonographer. Assisting my patients in their sitting down, standing up, allowing them to use my arm/wrist to help pull themselves off the bed, etc. even when they were more than double my size. LISTEN TO ME! You do not have to have skinny wrists or a small frame to get injured by helping a patient move. DO NOT be afraid to ask a co-worker for help. Anytime I have a patient transferring from wheelchair to bed, or that needs any type of assistance that could questionably injure me if I try to do it alone, I walk on over to X-ray or CT or PET and grab a male tech to help me out. Know what you’re comfortable doing alone and what you are gonna throw your back out on and ASK FOR HELP!

 

5. Take Breaks

This may be a little more difficult to manage if you work in a hospital, seeing as though your schedule can be somewhat unpredictable and hard to plan, but I personally am religious about taking my breaks at work. Your arm is taking on a LOT of weight when you are working a jam-packed schedule. I see (on average) 14ish patients a day. Usually 4 in the morning, 6 in the early afternoon & 4 in the late afternoon. I have scheduled breaks in between each “group” of patients, and then I try to take little breaks between each individual patient if I can. Don’t write off breaks or try to push through a busy schedule to get done faster at the expense of your arm. Take breaks to rest & stretch.

 

Here are the top few ways I take care of myself outside of work:

  1. Working out

I WISH I could take some time and research this — but for now, I’ll just say I have this theory that when I am consistently working out, I have w  a  y  less soreness from work. I don’t know if it’s because my muscles are just used to being used, if my arms are stronger, IDK. But I swear, having started weight training has drastically changed the way I feel after a long day (and week) of scanning!

2. Chiropractor & Massages

I swear by a chiropractor! I feel SO much better and maintain a much better posture when I keep up on my adjustments with my chiro. Think about how many times a day and how many different ways we are twisting our heads, necks & bodies! Keeping my back maintained really does feel like the best preventative maintenance!

When I do develop any type of knots or tension in my neck, shoulder or arm (work related or not) I get to the local spa ASAP. I usually ask my masseuse to focus on the area that I have the tension and the massages are rarely for “feel good” purposes. Again, I truly think staying on top of small problems now can save you alot of pain in the future.

3.  Natural Remedies

Icing & using a heating pad work wonders after a long day. My chiropractor usually tells me to ice my arm / elbow as it will prevent it from swelling much. I also love Tumeric tea for general inflammation, as well as Young Living’s Panaway Essential Oil. Its JUST like “icyhot” but completely natural and totally works.

 

Im obviously not a doctor or formally educated in this subject, so these are just my tips from person experience. Hope you guys find these tips helpful! And if you’re a tech, PLEASE let me know what you do to keep yourself & your arm in good shape!

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5 thoughts on “Ergonomics + Health tips for the Sonographer

  1. Toni, I’m OBSESSED with your page and love everything you do. I personally loved this post because I am currently on my second semester as a sonography student and let me tell you, I’m already feeling shoulder pain. My teacher is a huge advocate for proper ergonomics and I’m trying to implement the tips into my clinic day.
    With all of that being said, I have a question about the “DO NOT PUSH” section. I’m only wondering because my teacher is always saying, use more pressure (specifically when there is bowel gas, on obese patients, and when our image isn’t super clear). Are there any tips you have for avoiding those problems without having to apply so much pressure (like seriously my hand starts shaking after performing a total abdomen exam).

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    1. Hi! Thank you šŸ™‚ First off, that’s awesome that your teacher is promoting proper ergonomics to you. When it comes to adding more pressure, it sometimes can be necessary. When you’re first learning how to scan, you generally are still trying to figure out the best way to hold the probe, so she could just be trying to guide you in that way. I think I would just suggest that you use the best judgement you can when knowing HOW much pressure is too much. Let your body tell you what that point is.. the moment you start feeling your grip really tightening, or your wrist/arm is feeling tense while scanning would be a good indication. Do the best you can to image your patient but don’t go so far as to damage your wrist in the process. Hope that helps šŸ™‚ xx

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