Your poor feet! Your aching back! There’s no question about it — the work of a travel nurse is physically taxing. You’re standing or walking for half the day, and depending on your specialty, you might also be moving heavy equipment and lifting and assisting patients.
You don’t have to suffer needlessly, though. Preventative care can go a long way toward minimizing or even eliminating the aches and pains associated with long shifts and travel. That’s great news because feeling good will help you get the most fulfillment out of your work. It’ll improve your wellbeing off the clock, too! See these 13 ways to keep your body feeling good.
Cruise in comfort
If you drive a long distance to your travel nursing assignments, you’re familiar with the toll of spending too many hours behind the wheel. Pain from long drives can affect you for days after you’ve arrived at your destination, which is a real obstacle when you’re trying to work. So how do you avoid discomfort?
- Find the right car. For some drivers, an SUV may be the more comfortable option. For others, a sedan is a better fit — it really just depends on your height, leg length, and hips. Drive a car with smooth suspension, a roomy seat, and lumbar support. See some recommendations from Edmunds for highly recommended models for comfort.
- Take breaks. Your neck, back, hips and legs aren’t meant to be cramped up all day. Sitting too long in one position is the root of most car-related aches and pains. Get out and move around as much as you can — at the very least every three hours. If you can set cruise control, occasionally rest your legs in a 90-degree position.
- Be prepared. Warm up before you hit the road. Instead of leaving at the break of dawn, take a quick twenty-minute stroll around your neighborhood. Do some brief and simple stretches. On the road, pack ibuprofen or naproxen in your bag. Bring an ice pack in your cooler to treat inflammation if necessary.
While style is always fun, make it a priority to focus on what will keep you comfortable over long hours on the floor.
- Keep your scrubs loose. It might seem silly, but overly tight and poor quality clothes can actually cause a lot of problems, from acid reflux (pinching in the abdomen) to nerve pain to poor circulation to rashes. When you buy scrubs, try them on. Do a few leg bends, touch your toes, and try sitting down to make sure they’re roomy enough. If you have sensitive skin, check materials to make sure they don’t irritate you.
- Invest in awesomely comfortable shoes. This is preaching to the choir, right? Most nurses know a supportive, comfortable pair of shoes are priceless. This is an area where you shouldn’t be afraid to splurge.
- . . . and replace them! Check your soles frequently to look for wear (walking shoes last approximately 300-500 miles). Alternate new and older pairs so that you get a clear sense of when the older pair feels significantly more run down. That’s when they’re ready to retire.
- Steer clear of heels — even on your off days. For the ladies, this one’s key. As tempting as you may be to be a fashionista when you’re finally out of uniform, avoid heels! They do a number to your body, from your feet all the way up your spine. Still want to add a few inches and show off a bit? Try platform sandals, boots, or buy heels from an orthopedic-friendly manufacturer like Dr. Scholls (and use an insert).
Train your body
Perhaps the best way to prevent aches and pains as a travel nurse is to make sure you’re getting the right kind of exercise. When it comes to training, focus on the following:
- Work that core. We hear about it all the time these days, especially in the context of pilates and yoga. Don’t let the trendiness of these terms stress you out. Core training is simple. The idea is that you’re tightening and strengthening the muscles from your torso down through your hips. Research shows core training reduces back pain and increases stability and balance.
- Build strength. Injuries associated with lifting heavy objects can be avoided with proper strength training. You don’t need any fancy equipment. Bodyweight training (like lunges and push-ups) can really work. Here are some tips on how to get started!
- Be consistent. If you can, find time during your days off to maintain your fitness and build strength. If time’s too pinched, that’s okay, too! Fit in exercise during your breaks, like this 15-minute back exercise routine from the Mayo Clinic.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, pay attention to your body during your shifts. If you notice an ache, do what you can to intervene before a little problem becomes a big one.
- Change it up. Feel discomfort while sitting? Take a brief walk. If your seat is bothering you, see if you can adjust it, or swap out chairs with someone else who isn’t bothered.
- Be gentle with yourself. If a physical task is getting too difficult, ask a co-worker can help you out. Look for creative solutions that don’t involve a lot of brawn.
- Rest. Don’t be shy about stretching out on the floor if you need to, or going to your car for a little nap during your break. Nursing is hard work! You’ll come back refreshed and with a rested body.
Want more tips on staying healthy? See our guide to picking slow-burning foods in travel nursing.