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Changes in exercise and musculoskeletal symptoms of novice nurses: A one-year follow-up study

Pugh, J.D., Gelder, L., Cormack, K., Williams, A.M., Twigg, D.E., Giles, M. and Blazevich, A.J. (2020) Changes in exercise and musculoskeletal symptoms of novice nurses: A one-year follow-up study. Collegian, 28 (2). pp. 206-213.

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Nursing is a high-risk occupation for work-related musculoskeletal disorders and many nursing students have a history of musculoskeletal symptoms.


To quantify (1) changes in exercise and musculoskeletal symptoms from pre-registration to 12-month registered nurses, and (2) the best predictor of severity of musculoskeletal symptoms from measures of the five physical fitness components and exercise participation.


In this longitudinal study, August 2013 to April 2015, 62 (55.9%) of 111 nursing students fitness tested completed questionnaires measuring nursing work history, exercise, and musculoskeletal symptoms at baseline and 12 months post-registration.


Nurses' exercise participation declined post-registration and 38.0% were overweight/obese. At 12 months post-registration, 76.0% experienced musculoskeletal symptoms, mainly affecting the low back, neck, and/or shoulders. Approximately 50% of symptoms were attributed partly/solely to work; yet few were reported to employers or prompted sick leave. For female nurses, increases in whole-body strength were positively associated with increases in whole-body musculoskeletal symptom severity; however, the multiple regression model contained unexplained variability.


Many nursing students entered nursing with modifiable risk factors for work-related musculoskeletal disorders: overweight/obese, earlier musculoskeletal symptoms, and poor exercise habits. As registered nurses, they showed high lifetime and 12-month prevalence of musculoskeletal symptoms and declining exercise. Reporting musculoskeletal symptoms were undervalued.


Inadequate exercise and high prevalence of musculoskeletal symptoms among novice registered nurses may contribute to/aggravate musculoskeletal disorders. Nurse leaders should understand the exercise habits and fitness of pre-registration and novice registered nurses to develop interventions towards improving health behaviours to reduce musculoskeletal disorder risk.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Nursing
Publisher: Elsevier BV
Copyright: © 2020 Australian College of Nursing Ltd.
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