Pain Is a Growing Threat to the Nation's Surgeons, New Research Reveals

WEDNESDAY, April 1, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Many surgeons have neck and back pain after performing operations, a small new study finds.

It included 53 surgeons (34 men and 19 women) who did 116 operations at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. They wore devices that measured neck, back and arm posture during surgery, and were asked about pain and fatigue levels before and after.

Pain increased after surgery in every body area studied, most commonly in the neck (62%); lower back (45%), and upper back (43%). Nearly three-quarters (72%) of the surgeons reported increased fatigue after surgery.

The longer the surgery, the more pain and fatigue. Surgeons who used magnifying lenses had an average increase in neck angle of 10 degrees compared to procedures without them.

"At the end of an operating day, a majority of surgeons hurt because of their profession," said study co-author Dr. Samuel Money, a vascular and endovascular surgeon.

"It may not be like the NFL, but it's a physically demanding profession. It's clearly concerning that we're putting ourselves at physical risk to do our jobs," he said in a clinic news release.

Surgeons were in a demanding neck posture 42% of the time during laparoscopic surgery, and 80% of the time during open surgery, the study found. They were in a demanding back posture 17% of the time during laparoscopic surgery and 40% of the time during open surgery.

Laparoscopic surgery involves a smaller incision and use of a camera.

The Mayo Clinic study was recently published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

It noted that physical injuries can lead to missed work and burnout for surgeons, which affects patients' access to care.

"This makes the problem of the surgeon workforce shortage even more severe," Money said. "This will increasingly come into play as our population continues to age."

Study senior author Susan Hallbeck said researchers expected to see some neck pain after longer surgeries, but not as much as they found.

"And we didn't expect surgeons would be in these extreme angles that long," she added in the release. Hallbeck is a scientific director in Mayo Clinic's Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery in Rochester, Minn.

Surgeons' posture hasn't changed much over the years, but several factors have increased their burden in the operating room, she noted.

"Operating rooms continue to add equipment to address increased patient complexity. The patients are getting sicker and the surgeries are lasting longer," Hallbeck said. "So all of these things combined are a perfect storm for the surgeon to end up with musculoskeletal disorders."

More information

The American College of Rheumatology has more on neck pain.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, March 16, 2020

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