Can someone with a back injury pursue a career as an RN?

By | 2022-02-21T18:00:24-05:00 April 14th, 2014|2 Comments


Dear Donna,

Since I was a child I had always wanted to have a career in health care. I went to school for medical laboratory sciences, received my associate’s degree and worked in the laboratory for a few years. I really wanted to work more with patients; I felt too isolated in the lab.

I really wanted to go back to school to become a RN, but I injured my back two years ago. I have a herniated disc in my back which will probably heal on its own in time but it may need to be treated surgically. I have had doctors tell me that your back will probably heal in time and then you will be able to lift/carry again. I am a big husky guy who always was lifting and carrying but I didn’t want to get re-injured again. I was very sad because I thought I could not pursue nursing even after my back healed because of the heavy lifting.

I had all but given up hope but then a nurse that I know said just because you’ve had a back injury is no reason to stay out of nursing. She said if you have had a back injury you don’t have to worry about re-injury because most hospitals are going to a no-lifting policy because there have been too many injured nurses.

Can someone go into nursing after having had a herniated disc after it has healed or do you really risk the chance of re-injury on the job or in the nursing program at the school you are attending? Is this a career I can do?

Prospective Nurse Worried About Lifting

Dear Donna replies:

Dear Prospective Nurse Worried About Lifting,

For starters, there are nursing students and nurses with all types of disabilities and injuries including missing limbs and those confined to a wheelchair. They are in nursing programs and/or working in both traditional (hospital bedside) and non-traditional settings/positions.

Check out Donna Maheady’s work which focuses on supporting students and nurses with disabilities. She is the founder and administrator of ( and has written several books on the subject. Contact her through her website for additional information and support in this process.

As far as working after graduation, nurses work in many different settings. Patient lifting is not involved in many of them. In fact, most care (and related jobs for nurses) is moving out of the inpatient setting into outpatient and ambulatory care settings. And if you have a documented lifting restriction/disability and work in an area that does require it, you do have protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Best wishes,

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  1. Avatar
    Nt September 29, 2018 at 3:10 am - Reply

    I nedded this, I am now a RN with a newly diagnosed herniated disc. But this had given me the will to carry on.

    • Avatar
      BPfizer July 22, 2020 at 6:28 pm - Reply

      I am a Registered Nurse for almost 30 years, and have suffered back injury at work in 2018 and I am still off work and incapacitated because of this injury. Back pain and injury have a major impact on the efficiency of the nursing workforce. Us RNs. LVNs, nursing aides and orderlies are highest ranked across all occupations for back injuries. United States, nurses’ back injuries are estimated to cost over US$10 million in indemnity and medical payments. Nurses’ compensation for back injury comprises are all time high.

      Surprisingly, few systematic reviews have investigated the efficacy of interventions to prevent back pain and injury in nurses and reduce musculoskeletal injuries associated with handling patients and performing job functions. There are some literatures to determine whether there are interventions with proven efficacy that prevent back pain and back injury in nurses. Many studies and reviews are focusing specifically on nurses and their jobs due to the unique nature of nursing work.

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