Diagnostic Medical Sonographers have a high risk of incurring injury due to the nature of the job. The injuries are usually to tendons and muscles that are overused in repetitive motions, or strained during scanning or while shifting numerous patients each work shift. The most common injuries are sustained above the waist in the shoulders, back, arms and wrists. Sonographers are notorious for continuing to work despite experiencing pain. The good news is that the chances of developing musculoskeletal disorders can be minimized by developing good exercise habits, and that process should start while attending a sonography program.
Sonography students complete clinical training which is the first exposure to the type of physical effort required on the job. Developing an exercise program that targets the muscles used most frequently as an ultrasound technician is important for preventing injury at a later date. There are hundreds of sonographers who had to give up their careers due to injury, and most of the time the injuries were preventable. Neglecting the body means being unable to help others.
Making a Plan
The first rule of thumb is to develop an exercise program that conditions the whole body because strong leg and core muscles are needed to do heavy lifting and to properly support the body. For sonographers, the heavy lifting usually refers to helping patients in wheelchairs or gurneys get on and off the examination table or moving heavy equipment. A general conditioning program, fitting life as a sonography student or professional sonographer, is expanded to include specific exercises that target muscle groups in the shoulder, arms and wrists, and back.
There are hundreds of exercises to choose from. Some people let a personal trainer develop the right exercise program, but it is not necessary with the right motivation and dedication to staying healthy. The internet offers a large amount of information about general conditioning and targeted strengthening exercises. Three 30-minute workout sessions each week will begin producing results within a few weeks.
Sonographers need to specifically include stretching and strengthening exercises. Following is a sample of the type of exercises that can help with injury prevention.
The shoulder, back and chest muscles need lots of stretching to keep the large and small muscles limber. The stretching exercises can also relieve pain from injuries already incurred. Regularly doing an exercise like the following will relieve muscle tension and prepare muscles for managing the next level of exercises.
This is also an example of the type of exercise that can easily be done in a dorm room or at home to loosen chest muscles and muscles in the arms and upper back.
To stretch the chest muscles, a simple exercise like the following is effective.
The Society for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS) WorkZone also provides examples of exercises to keep shoulder muscles and joints limber and healthy (Source: www.sdms.org).
Strengthening muscles, as opposed to stretching them, often requires some resistance. Resistance can be added by using light weights, the versatile elastic exercise bands or resistance bands, or the body itself. However, there are plenty of exercises that strengthen muscles by using only body movements.
Following is an example of using a shoulder strengthening exercise using weights.
Using resistance bands is often preferred because they can be used for a variety of exercises and are easy to store. Following is an example of chest press exercises done with an elastic exercise band anchored around a pole. The band is pulled in and out.
Pelvic tilts strengthen lower back and abdomen muscles. They do not require any equipment and can be done while watching television. Lay on your back and press it into the floor, tightening the muscles. Then relax. Do this repeatedly. Once this exercise seems too easy, start doing hip bridges. In the same position, raise the hips off the floor while flexing the abdomen. Then lower the hips. Repeat the exercise.
Take Care of the Body Now and Not Later
In 2009, the SDMS reported the results of a study of sonographers and vascular technologists conducted by Keven Evans that was published in the “Journal of Diagnostic Medical Sonography.” The study indicated that almost 90 percent of the 3,000 professionals included in the study were completing scans with some pain. The injuries ranged from carpal tunnel due to repetitive movements to back injuries from lifting to ergonomic injuries from twisting the neck, shoulders and spine during scanning.
The statistics should not discourage anyone from becoming an ultrasound technician, but they should encourage students and professionals to start an exercise program to minimize the chances of injuries occurring. Exercise is a “best practice” for mitigating occupational injuries.
The few exercise examples given in this article are intended to showcase the fact that sonographers have many ways to fit the right exercises into busy schedules without a lot of expense or time. Every sonographer should develop a customized exercise plan to stretch and strengthen the whole body while adding specific exercises that target the muscles and tendons sonographers are most likely to injure.