5 Stretches for Nurses to Combat Physical Fatigue

Stretches for Nurses

Nursing is an extraordinarily physical job.

While you may have certified nursing assistants (CNAs) available to help you with some tasks, it’s common for nurses to do plenty of physically fatiguing tasks. These tasks may include moving or rotating patients, carrying equipment from room to room, and even hunching over a patient’s bed to check their vitals or insert an IV. 

It’s no surprise, therefore, that so many nurses find themselves physically exhausted with aches and pains on their way home from shifts. Sometimes, the soreness lingers for a few days after a shift, making you more prone to a legitimate injury. 

To prevent injuries and keep you feeling great throughout your shift—and after!—you may want to consider implementing a few stretches into your pre-shift routine. Stretching during your shift can also help alleviate aches and pains. 

Let’s look at the five stretches for nurses that can help combat physical fatigue (and what to do if the stretches aren’t enough!). 

1. Tabletop Stretches 

Tabletop stretches can help elongate the back, reducing lower back pain. It can also help alleviate and prevent pinched nerves and tight muscles, both of which are common in physical jobs.

See how to do a tabletop stretch here.

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2. Neck & Shoulder Rolls 

Neck roll for nurses

Neck and shoulder rolls can relieve tension and pain from—you guessed it!—your neck and shoulders. The relief can make it easier to get through a shift even once that physical fatigue has kicked in, loosening up your upper body and even preventing headaches.

See how to do neck and shoulder rolls here.

3. The Hula Hoop Stretch

The hula hoop stretch is dynamic, meaning that the movement involved helps get you the desired result. This stretch will help loosen up your hips and lower back. It can alleviate pain. It can also help increase mobility, making your shift easier and preventing potential fatigue. 

See how to correctly use the hula hoop stretch here.

4. The Chicken Wing Stretch 

Nurses need solid upper body rotation for their day-to-day jobs. Many also experience thoracic back pain after a few long shifts. The chicken wing stretch can help with both. It can also improve your posture over time. Like the hula hoop stretch, the chicken wing stretch is dynamic. 

See how it works here.

5. Glute Stretches for Nurses

Glute stretches can reduce lower back pain. They can also help to prevent or reduce pinched nerves in the lower back or glute area. Glute stretches can also be a lifesaver for those experiencing sciatica, which nurses are at particularly high risk for.

You can use different types of glute stretches, but many involve either laying flat or sitting, bending one leg, and twisting the body to stretch. It’s common for the stretch to be easier on one side than the other. 

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You can see a great example of an easy glute stretch here.

3 Types of Exercise That May Reduce Physical Pain for Nurses 

Pilates for Nurses

If you’re looking for more ways to reduce physical fatigue and pain that you may experience during or after a shift, several exercise programs may help. Most will involve a combination of strength and flexibility training. 

Some of the most beneficial exercise programs include the following:

  • Weightlifting: If you’re experiencing significant physical fatigue during nursing shifts, you may want to consider an intentional weightlifting program. You can work with a trainer to improve your overall strength. Trainers can ensure you’re using the correct form and targeting every muscle group for full-body strength.
  • Yoga: Yoga uses your own body weight for strength training while also having a significant emphasis on stretching for improved flexibility. Yoga is also relaxing, which can be particularly beneficial for nurses as they regularly deal with high-stress environments.
  • Pilates: Pilates typically centers around low-impact exercises that also incorporate mindfulness and deep stretching. You can get stronger and more flexible with help from assistive devices like reformers, straps for stretching, and balance bars.

Final Thoughts: How to Deal with Chronic Pain from Nursing 

Sometimes stretches alone just aren’t going to cut it for nurses. 

When experiencing chronic pain from nursing, you may need a change. Some nurses benefit from cutting back on their hours, while others prefer to switch to a slightly less physical specialty. 

If you choose to cut your hours, you can consider switching from full-time to part-time work. You can also look into PRN nursing. When you take PRN shifts, you’ll work as an independent contractor. You can choose the shifts you want to request, so everything is on your terms.

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There are times, however, when chronic or sharp pain isn’t just fatigue and soreness—it’s not uncommon for nurses to sustain real injuries at work. Make sure that you see a doctor as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Sharp pain that doesn’t feel like soreness from overuse or fatigue 
  • Ongoing pain in a specific location that doesn’t get better after a few days or that worsens 
  • Any pain that directly impacts your daily life, including but not limited to your ability to do your job 

It’s hard work taking care of patients, but taking care of yourself is essential, too.

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