It’s well documented that more than half of sonographers sustain injuries on the job and some sonographers sustain career-ending injuries. Now we need to recognize that many of these injuries are preventable—and take appropriate action.
The most common injury is to the shoulder and the second most common is to the neck. Shoulder injuries are usually caused by moving the arm backward beyond midline or abducting the arm beyond 30 degrees to perform an exam. This unnatural position reduces blood flow to muscles and tendons and, over time, creates a serious injury to the joint. Neck injuries are created when sonographers repeatedly twist their head to view a monitor.
Both of these injuries can be avoided with well-designed ultrasound systems and by regularly practicing correct work postures.
An ultrasound system’s monitor needs to move freely from one side to another—ideally with height adjustment and swivel controls. The monitor also needs a handle. If a monitor requires two hands to move it, sonographers aren’t likely to make the necessary adjustments that would prevent an unnatural neck position and its resulting injuries. It’s ideal for a sonographer to be able to change transducers with one hand and for the keyboard to swivel and move from left to right to allow access to the controls on the desired side.
Imaging should be conducted on the side where the organ is located. It’s never good practice to stretch across a patient’s body to perform the scan. Sonographers also need to learn to perform exams with either hand, so they can image from either side of the patient but still have to use good work postures to avoid injury to both shoulders.
Correct positioning also applies to the ultrasound workstation where the images are processed. The keyboard should be positioned at the right height and angled in a slightly negative downward tilt, and the top of the monitor should be at eye level so the sonographer is not looking up or down.
Ironically, sonographers in the era of radiographic film had fewer injuries than they do today. Why? Because they imaged a patient, then walked to the film processor, and then walked to take the film to physicians. The walking that was required as part of the workflow provided the stretching, activity and muscle recovery the body needs.
In the digital age, sonographers need to make sure they practice good posture while imaging patients and working at workstations, and take brief breaks to stand and stretch. These activities—along with well-designed ultrasound systems and workstations—can help reduce the rate of injuries and allow sonographers to enjoy a productive career.
For more information on ergonomics and sonography, you can read and download a white paper I authored on the subject titled, “Improving the Ergonomic Workstation.”
Carolyn Coffin, MPH, RDMS, RVT, RDCS, Sound Ergonomics LLC. Carolyn Coffin has worked in the field of ultrasound since 1987. She has been the program coordinator for diagnostic medical sonography programs, as well as a clinical sonographer.