Ergonomics in Surgery: A Review

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Abstract

Objective

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) are prevalent among surgeons and may result in practice modification. We aimed to perform a comprehensive review of the English-language literature regarding ergonomic risk, prevalence of WMSDs, and unique ergonomic considerations by route of surgery.

Methods

Multiple searches were performed of PubMed and University library resources to access English-language publications related to surgeon ergonomics. Combinations of keywords were used for each mode of surgery, including the following: “ergonomics,” “guidelines,” “injury,” “operating room,” “safety,” “surgeon,” and “work-related musculoskeletal disorders.” Each citation was read in detail, and references were reviewed.

Results

Surgeon WMSDs are prevalent, with rates ranging from 66% to 94% for open surgery, 73% to 100% for conventional laparoscopy, 54% to 87% for vaginal surgery, and 23% to 80% for robotic-assisted surgery. Risk factors for injury in open surgery include use of loupes, headlamps, and microscopes. Unique risks in laparoscopic surgery include table and monitor position, long-shafted instruments, and poor instrument handle design. In vaginal surgery, improper table height and twisted trunk position create injury risk. Although robotic surgery offers some advantages, it remains associated with trunk, wrist, and finger strain. Surgeon WMSDs often result in disability but are under-reported to institutions. Additionally, existing research tools face limitations in the operating room environment.

Conclusions

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are prevalent among surgeons but have received little attention owing to under-reporting of injury and logistical constraints of studying surgical ergonomics. Future research must aim to develop objective surgical ergonomics instruments and guidelines and to correlate ergonomics assessments with pain and tissue-level damage in surgeons with WMSDs. Ergonomics training should be developed to protect surgeons from preventable, potentially career-altering injuries.

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