Surgeons Need to Stay Fit and Active to Stay Injury-Free
Long hours in surgery can lead to injury and strain if you aren’t careful.
For surgeons, long hours in the operating room can be like an endurance test. And while most of your focus can and should be on the patient and producing the best outcome, it’s also essential to take care of yourself to keep your muscles from getting strained or injured.
Priya D. Krishna, MD, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Loma Linda, California, said ergonomics can be just as important in a surgical setting as it is in an office setting.
“It’s about the importance of the positioning of your head, arms, and body while operating to avoid chronic strain injuries,” she said.
Examining ways to avoid those injuries will be part of Wednesday’s session, “Surgeons as Athletes: How to Stay Playoff Ready.” According to Dr. Krishna, the similarities between surgeons and athletes are there if you look close enough.
“Surgeons are like athletes because we are required to be highly focused and anticipatory while making quick decisions using finely coordinated movements,” she said. “So, the parts of the body required to make those movements have to be in optimal shape in terms of strength and neural control.”
That’s why, in addition to practicing ergonomics in the operating theater, surgeons need to stay physically fit outside of it.
“General physical fitness is an important component of this,” Dr. Krishna said. “But so is awareness of your own body in the space in which it functions, which is where ergonomics is immediately relevant.”
Cecelia E. Schmalbach, MD, MSc, Professor and Chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-HNS at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, affirms that physical fitness can help surgeons meet the demands of long hours on their feet.
“Surgery is incredibly demanding on our bodies – from long hours in the operating room in positions which are suboptimal from an ergonomic standpoint to the stress of taking care of sick patients,” she said. “Being physically fit allows one to continue in our career in a manner that is pain-free, enjoyable, and sustainable.”
Dr. Krishna said that occupational therapist Jarel Russell, OTR/L, COMT, ITOT, will provide surgeons with some specific exercises, such as neck and shoulder exercises, that can be done in between cases to help them stay loose and limber on the job. Russell will also highlight some specific positioning to use when standing or when using a microscope or other instruments that can help prevent strain or injury.
Dr. Schmalbach, meanwhile, will outline her own journey of doing long surgeries on patients who are much bigger than she is.
“I will share tips in the operating room from patient positioning and strategic scheduling of cases to advice on how I have remained pain free,” she said. “It took several years to find what worked for me, and every physician is different. My key has been lifting to strengthen my back/latissimus dorsi muscles and my core.”