Patient Positions for Nurses. Self Learn session 7

This article is written for Nurses, by a Lecturer in Health Sciences. It describes the commonly used nursing positions. Diagrams and Pictures are included. This article will also be useful for individuals caring for sick relatives and friends.

These learning notes about nursing positions are for nursing students and can be used in the home, community and the hospital settings with minor modifications to suit the patient’s individual condition and need. Patients who cannot move themselves must be moved two to four hourly, again depending on the patient’s condition. This is to prevent skin breakdown (formation of pressure sores / decubitus ulcers).

Bed sores or pressure sores have been given names. These include decubitus sore, pressure ulcer, bedsore, ischial tuberosity ulcer, bed rest injury, bedrest injury, chronic ulceration, pressure ulceration, decubitus ulceration. All these terms mean about the same thing – patient injury while lying helpless in bed.

Picture 1. Shows a conscious client sitting up comfortably. This type of sitting facility is not suitable for the paralyzed or unconscious patient.

Most institutions have a “no lift policy” so please use the slippery slide sheet or a pat slide for the appropriate movement of a patient. For moving non-weight bearing patients out of bed you must use a hoist. Please check that the hoist’s safe working load is appropriate. No employer will be responsible for any injury to you or any other employee if you did not follow the institution’s policies and procedures.

When positioning a patient it is helpful to be able to focus on key parts. The key parts are the skin, head and neck, arms and shoulders, hips, buttocks, knees and extremities. For the acutely ill patient position should be comfortable and safe. If you, are working in the Operating Theatre you will also need to consider accessibility to the area to be operated on.

Picture 2: Lifting and moving patients up the bed was standard of care then. Now it is disallowed in most facilities.

Skin . All nurses caring for patients must examine the skin of all patients, even healthy ones, and help patients prevent injury. Pressure sores cost the health service billions of dollars. Lesions, bruises, pressure, friction and dry skin lead to many skin problems.

Head and neck . Pillows and head rests should be used strategically. Use “donoughts” if the patient is in the the supine or Trendeleberg position to protect bony prominences on the back of the head.

When a patient is in bed, evaluate the patients’ pressure areas. Check the eyes, ears, and nose. Ensure that these areas aren’t being pinched or obstructed. In female patients, insure that their hair is placed properly, make sure they aren’t wearing hair clips or twists.

Arms and shoulders . The general guideline is to keep the arms at a 90 degree angle to the rest of the body. Some studies suggest that you should never have abduction greater than 60 degrees. These suggest that if you abduct more than 60 degrees you can cause brachial plexus injuries. There are times when you may have to move the patient’s arms to 90 degrees, but as a practical rule, the less severe the angle, the better off the patient will be.

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  1. Sarjeet, thank you for these notes. These are excellent. Not too long, not too brief, just right. I did not get bored reading these.

  2. Good Day Dab,

    Your comments are appreciated. Wish I could do more to help students like youreslf.

  3. Good Day Debbie,

    I am sorry I could not respond earlier. Yes, lectures and long noes are boring. The aim here is to deliver useful information and I an not bound by university protocol about the length of notes or the format of notes.

    Here, I can tell you, “straight to to the point”. Thank you for taking the troumble to comment.

  4. Sorry for the typographical error. Here it is corrected for all readers.
    The second sentence should read, “Yes, lectures and long notes are boring”.

  5. I am an old fashioned nurse.I thought there was a position that was used where the head and chest of the patient where pointed downward to the crossed arms on the bed, and the buttocks where pointed upwards.(not very complimentary) Anybody heard of it?
    Also, isn’t there the lithotomy position for pelvic exams?

    Or have I been out of the field too long?

  6. hello, excellent work…..let know the books which you refered…

  7. hello, excellent work…..let know the books which you refered…

  8. Excellent notes, came in handy for a quick review.
    Please would you also include the thirty-degree oblique position.

  9. Judi, you are right. It seems certain positions were neglected in this article (i.e. lithotomy, trendelenburg, etc.), but the ones that were covered were done well.

  10. please send me different types of patient positions.

  11. Where do you live?

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