Ultrasound Clinics: Preventing work-related injuries among sonographers and sonologists

July 1, 2007

Whether you do your own scanning or employ someone to do it, work posture is the most critical risk factor for musculoskeletal injury in sonography. Proper technique and equipment are also key.

Key Points

[Department Editor's note: This month we turn away from clinical diagnosis to another important topic: sonographer and sonologist injuries. As the ultrasound workforce matures, we're finding more and more injuries occurring due to the nature of the techniques we use, exacerbated by the general increase in weight of the population in the United States. The authors of this Ultrasound Clinic are sonographers who are well known for their efforts to improve the health and safety of those of us who work in U/S.-JC]

Although work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSD) have been reported in many professions for several years, they've been identified in the U/S profession only within the last 12 years. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD)-the major cause of workplace injury-have a significant economic impact on industries.1 WRMSDs account for 56% of work-related illnesses reported to OSHA, cause 640,000 lost workdays, and account for most of Worker's Compensation costs.2

A survey conducted by the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography and the Healthcare Benefit Trust of British Columbia revealed that 84% of the sonographers who responded were scanning while in pain, which they attributed to their work activities.3 Twenty percent of those sonographers had had an injury severe enough to end their careers. In fact, the impact of their shortened careers has contributed to the current workforce shortage in sonography. In countries other than the US, Australia, and the United Kingdom, U/S examinations are performed by physicians. An Italian survey found that 80% of physician sonographers reported musculoskeletal symptoms.4

Risk factors

The causes of WRMSD can be attributed to three groups of factors:

1. BIOMECHANICAL FACTORS-awkward scanning postures, excessive force used in performing an exam, poor workspace design;

2. FAULTY WORK ORGANIZATION-infrequent breaks, overtime and on-call incentives, inadequate employee training6 ;

3. INJURY MANAGEMENT-delayed reporting and diagnosis of injuries, improper injury management, returning the worker to an injury-producing environment.