Occupational injuries very common in surgeons

By Anthony J. Brown, MD

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A survey of more than 350 plastic surgeons indicates that occupational injuries, especially muscle strains, are the norm, not the exception in this profession, according to study findings to be presented next month at the American Society of Plastic Surgery meeting in Chicago.

This is the “first systematic assessment of injuries occurring in the surgical workforce,” lead researcher Dr. Pranay M. Parikh, from Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC, told Reuters Health.

The results indicate that injuries are much more prevalent among surgeons than previously thought, Parikh said. “As surgeons have historically been a stoic and low complaining population, the incidence of occupational injuries in this population has been underreported.”

The survey focused on 28 common conditions of the neck, back and arms. The research team also examined a number of potential risk factors for injury, such as age, gender, years spent operating, and use of microscopes and loupes, a smaller, more portable magnifying device. The functional impact of the injury was assessed using the “DASH” tool (disability of the arm, shoulder, and hand.)

Muscle strain was reported by 70 percent of the surgeons, vision changes by 40 percent, cervical disc degeneration by 30 percent, lumbar disc degeneration by 25 percent, and shoulder arthritis by 20 percent. Roughly half of the subjects reported being treated for a health condition related to operating.

The DASH findings suggested that the injuries often had a functional impact. Age, years in practice, and loupe use were all found to correlate with injury.

Most of the respondents also reported an injury that broke the skin or a splash exposure within the 12 months prior to the survey, the findings indicate.

“Surgery is a physically and mentally demanding field requiring more than 10 years of post-graduate training to prepare for,” Parikh noted. “Avoiding preventable disability in this highly trained group is imperative to protect the surgical workforce and ensure a high level of surgical care.”

He added that “workplace ergonomics is an area for growth and development to prevent occupational injuries in surgeons.”

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