Healthcare professional assisting a patient

Step-by-Step Guide to Lifting Patients

Learn the procedures, steps, risks, and requirements for patient lifts.

Healthcare professional assisting a patient

It takes a lot of strength to move patients in and out of their beds. In fact, healthcare occupations hold some of the highest rates of musculoskeletal injuries from overexertion. The greatest risk factor for healthcare professionals is the manual lifting, moving, and repositioning of patients.

This article will focus on the art and science of proper lifting techniques, one of the “simplest” yet most risky tasks for nurses and other medical staff. Healthcare professionals who master this skill may lower their risk of injury and contribute to higher rates of patient satisfaction.

(Click here to see our full list of the most common nursing duties and responsibilities).

Nurses are required to move their patients for a number of reasons. Depending on their patient’s needs, they may need to perform this task quite often. Whether you’re studying to become a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN), Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), or Registered Nurse (RN), it’s critical that you learn the proper techniques for patient lifts in a medical environment.

Definition of Lifting a Patient

What Does It Mean to Lift Patients?

This process transports patients from their beds to a chair or wheelchair. Healthcare workers may perform this task when helping their patients adjust their bodies or when helping them develop and regain strength in specific areas of their bodies.

Common reasons to lift a patient:

  • Changing a patient’s linens
  • Cleaning their bedpan
  • Assisting them to the bathroom
  • Helping patients adjust their bodies
  • Helping patients perform exercises

How Long Does It Take to Lift a Patient?

The time will likely depend on the size of the patient, the number of personnel available, and the policies at the facility. In addition, the availability of safe patient handling equipment can greatly facilitate this process.

Who Performs a Patient Lift?

Several different healthcare professionals can perform a patient lift, including but not limited to nurses, physical therapists, home health workers, etc.

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Training Requirements for Patient Lifts

When it comes to patient lifting requirements, most licensed professionals such as Registered Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses will typically learn how to perform this vital task throughout their educational programs and medical training.

For example, patient-lift training is a component of many Vocational or Practical Nursing programs. The process of manual lifts, or learning how to operate mechanical lifting equipment, may also be included in courses that cover nursing fundamentals. You can expect to demonstrate this skill on the NCLEX exam as well.

Patient Lifting Procedure

A Detailed Guide to Patient Lifts

African-American nurse with a clipboard

By reviewing the following steps, you can begin to learn more about the process of manual patient lifts. Like any other skill, lifting patients requires time and practice to master. While in school, try not to feel disheartened if you don’t get it right the first time, and don’t hesitate to ask for your instructor’s help.

Patient-Lift Steps

Here are some of the general guidelines that you should follow when moving a patient from their bed to a chair or wheelchair, or vice versa.

  1. Ensure that the chair or wheelchair is in operable condition.
  2. Place the chair so that the back of it is parallel to the end of the bed and facing toward the front of the bed.
  3. Put a pillow on the seat of the chair—be sure to line it with a blanket or sheet and arrange pillows against the back.
  4. If you’re moving the patient to a wheelchair, put the wheelchair’s footrest up before you lock the wheels.
  5. Take the patient’s pulse.
  6. Assist the patient to a sitting position on their bed.
  7. Observe the patient to defect any change in color, pulse, and respiratory rate.
  8. Put on the patient’s robe and slippers. Place the foot stool of the wheelchair under the patient’s feet.
  9. Stand directly in front of the patient and assist them to stand up, step down, and turn around, so that their back is to the chair.
    • Let the patient flex their knees and lower their body to sit in the chair.
    • Anchor the chair with your foot or have someone else hold it.
    • Help the patient get comfortable in the chair.
  10. Adjust the pillows as necessary and place a blanket over the patient’s lap. If they’re in a wheelchair, be sure to adjust the footrests.
  11. Frequently look for changes in color, pulse rate, dizziness, or signs of fatigue.
  12. Assist the patient back into their bed.
  13. Draw up the bedding.
  14. Take their pulse again.
  15. Document the event.

Patient-Lift Recovery

After performing a manual or mechanical lift, the patient may be sore and require rest. Be sure to observe their vital signs and document everything. If you perform a manual lift incorrectly, you increase the risk for injury, and you may require an extended recovery time.

Necessary Equipment for Patient Lifts

Typically, a manual lift will only require the bare essentials:

  • A wheelchair
  • Patient chart/paperwork
  • Pillows
  • Blanket

Some hospitals will provide their employees with mechanical lifting equipment. One example is an assistive device called the patient lift and sling. It can help a nurse or caregiver transfer a patient back and forth from their bed to a chair with ease. These lifts are usually operated by hydraulic-manual pumping or an electric motor.

Potential Risks or Complications of Lifting Patients

Serious patient-lift risks or complications can include the following conditions from falls:

  • Head trauma
  • Fractures
  • Musculoskeletal injuries (i.e. nurses performing manual lifts)

You can avoid some of these adverse reactions by following the appropriate steps. What they say is true: practice makes perfect.

Pro Tips for Mastering the Art of Lifting Patients

Mask and stethoscope with hearts

Many of our pro patient-lift tips involve steps that should be taken prior to action. Here are a few tips that may assist you in the future.

  • Know the weight of your patient and consider the mode of transportation (i.e. gurney, stretcher, or wheelchair).
  • Understand your limitations and be realistic. If you cannot safely move the patient on your own, don’t be afraid to seek help. Have a plan of action ready in case this happens.
  • Know how you plan on moving the patient, what steps you’ll be taking, and what you’ll do if “plan A” doesn’t work.
  • Remember to communicate, both with your colleague and with the patient. When you’re on the same page, injuries will be minimized and your efforts will be more efficient.
  • Use verbal commands and know when to stop.

Why Should Nurses Learn How to Perform Patient Lifts?

Patient lifts are often necessary for the health of a nurse’s patient. Depending on the facility, you may be responsible for manual or mechanical lifts. Performing these lifts can help facilitate the healing process and contribute to your patient’s overall comfort.

Mechanical lift assistance equipment is the only way to truly prevent nursing injuries. Although equipping healthcare facilities with this equipment is expensive, it’s undoubtedly worth the cost to protect the safety of our healthcare heroes. Not only would it save nurses from pain and injury, but it would also help prevent staff shortages, costly workers’ compensation suits, lower-quality care, and staff burnout.

While you pursue your nursing education, it’s vital that you reflect on your goals and which specialization is best for you. Ensure that you work in a facility that suits your needs—ask about their patient-lift equipment or their policies.

Take the First Step Toward Your Dream Career

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Unitek College offers several nursing programs for aspiring nurses, including our BSN program and Vocational Nursing school.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs and tuition assistance options. Take the first step toward a rewarding future in healthcare!