Though it would be nice if sonographers were never injured on the job, the reality is that a large percentage experience muscle injuries, inflammation of the tendons and nerve entrapment syndrome. Many of the injuries are due to activities like completing excessive scanning while maintaining a static work posture, assisting patients, and holding transducers for long periods of time in a tight grip.
When an injury occurs and is ignored, the muscle, tendon or nerve damage can get worse as the Diagnostic Medical Sonographer continues to do the same work activities day-in and day-out. A better approach is to try natural strategies that encourage healing and enable the ultrasound technician to continue pursuing a successful career.
Soothing Sore Muscles
There is a good reason why many of the CAAHEP accredited sonography schools have developed curriculum that include one or more classes on patient and health care professional safety. The numbers are stark since numerous studies indicate as many as 90 percent of sonographers experience some kind of pain during scanning.
Realistically speaking, every job has risks of physical injury. Even an office worker sitting at a desk can get carpal tunnel or back pain, both of which are common sonographer injuries. Sonographers often strain their neck and back muscles due to sitting in awkward positions for long periods of time or develop painful carpal tunnel syndrome from doing repetitive scans with poor wrist positioning.
The natural strategies for soothing sore muscles include:
- Doing stretching exercises that loosen tight muscles and encourage increased blood flow
- Applying ice to the inflamed area for 20-minute intervals over a 24-hour period
- Soaking in a warm tub to encourage blood flow to sore and stiff muscles
- Applying dry heat with a therapeutic heat wrap
- Alternately applying 3 minutes of heat and one minute of cold and repeating several times
- Massaging an area to stimulate blood flow and loosen stiff muscles and tendons
Releasing the Trap
There are also ways to reduce the risk of continued development of nerve entrapment syndrome, if the condition is in the early stages. They include:
- Making a conscious effort to adjust positioning during scanning procedures to minimize the repeated trauma to the wrist
- Stretching regularly so that blood circulation is maintained
Above all, the sonographer needs to be aware of the risk of injury and certain medical conditions. There are some aspects out of the control of the sonographer, like the number of scans performed in a single shift. However, the sonographer can frequently minimize strains through patient and personal positioning.
Listen to the Body
It is also important to “listen” to the body. Initial indications a physical problem is developing are often ignored, which is human nature. The pain creeps up on the sonographer, meaning the injury is getting worse. It is not until the pain becomes noticeable during scanning, or when the pain never subsides, that people decide to take action.
Sonographer interviews conducted by the Society of Radiographers in the United Kingdom found that the time lapse between first noticing a problem to recognizing an injury was one to three years (“The Causes of Musculoskeletal Injury Amongst Sonographers”, June 2002). Therefore, there is one more item to add to the list of natural strategies: Do not ignore pain or muscle stress.