An investigation of foot and ankle problems experienced by nurses

Reed, Lloyd Fisher (2007) An investigation of foot and ankle problems experienced by nurses. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Relatively little information has been reported about foot and ankle problems experienced by nurses, despite anecdotal evidence which suggests they are common ailments. The purpose of this study was to improve knowledge about the prevalence of foot and ankle musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and to explore relationships between these MSDs and proposed risk factors. A review of the literature relating to work-related MSDs, MSDs in nursing, foot and lower-limb MSDs, screening for work-related MSDs, foot discomfort, footwear and the prevalence of foot problems in the community was undertaken. Based on the review, theoretical risk factors were proposed that pertained to the individual characteristics of the nurses, their work activity or their work environment.

Three studies were then undertaken. A cross-sectional survey of 304 nurses, working in a large tertiary paediatric hospital, established the prevalence of foot and ankle MSDs. The survey collected information about self-reported risk factors of interest. The second study involved the clinical examination of a subgroup of 40 nurses, to examine changes in body discomfort, foot discomfort and postural sway over the course of a single work shift. Objective measurements of additional risk factors, such as individual foot posture (arch index) and the hardness of shoe midsoles, were performed. A final study was used to confirm the test-retest reliability of important aspects of the survey and key clinical measurements.

Foot and ankle problems were the most common MSDs experienced by nurses in the preceding seven days (42.7% of nurses). They were the second most common MSDs to cause disability in the last 12 months (17.4% of nurses), and the third most common MSDs experienced by nurses in the last 12 months (54% of nurses). Substantial foot discomfort (Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) score of 50mm or more) was experienced by 48.5% of nurses at sometime in the last 12 months.

Individual risk factors, such as obesity and the number of self-reported foot conditions (e.g., callouses, curled toes, flat feet) were strongly associated with the likelihood of experiencing foot problems in the last seven days or during the last 12 months. These risk factors showed consistent associations with disabling foot conditions and substantial foot discomfort. Some of these associations were dependent upon work-related risk factors, such as the location within the hospital and the average hours worked per week. Working in the intensive care unit was associated with higher odds of experiencing foot problems within the last seven days, foot problems in the last 12 months and foot problems that impaired activity in the last 12 months.

Changes in foot discomfort experienced within a day, showed large individual variability. Fifteen of the forty nurses experienced moderate/substantial foot discomfort at the end of their shift (VAS 25+mm). Analysis of the association between risk factors and moderate/substantial foot discomfort revealed that foot discomfort was less likely for nurses who were older, had greater BMI or had lower foot arches, as indicated by higher arch index scores. The nurses’ postural sway decreased over the course of the work shift, suggesting improved body balance by the end of the day. These findings were unexpected. Further clinical studies examining individual nurses on several work shifts are needed to confirm these results, particularly due to the small sample size and the single measurement occasion.

There are more than 280,000 nurses registered to practice in Australia. The nursing workforce is ageing and the prevalence of foot problems will increase. If the prevalence estimates from this study are extrapolated to the profession generally, more than 70,000 hospital nurses have experienced substantial foot discomfort and 25-30,000 hospital nurses have been limited in their activity due to foot problems during the last 12 months.

Nurses with underlying foot conditions were more likely to report having foot problems at work. Strategies to prevent or manage foot conditions exist and they should be disseminated to nurses. Obesity is a significant risk factor for foot and ankle MSDs and these nurses may need particular assistance to manage foot problems. The risk of foot problems for particular groups of nurses, e.g. obese nurses, may vary depending upon the location within the hospital. Further research is needed to confirm the findings of this study. Similar studies should be conducted in other occupational groups that require workers to stand for prolonged periods.

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ID Code: 35779
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Newman, Beth, Battistutta, Diana, & Young, Jeanine
Keywords: musculoskeletal disorders, foot discomfort, foot problems, foot disorders, foot posture, footwear, arch index, plantar pressure measurement, obesity, nursing, nordic musculoskeletal questionnaire, occupational health, podiatry
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Public Health & Social Work
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 22 Sep 2010 05:21
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:57

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