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When Traditional Physical Therapy Isn’t Enough for Successful Return-to-Work

Traditional physical therapy programs remain a tried-and-true solution to help injured workers regain functionality and return to work; however, there are rare cases when an injured worker needs additional support to get over the finish line. When this happens, an advanced work rehabilitation program might be the answer.

Role of Advanced Work Rehabilitation
An advanced work rehabilitation program is an individualized program that addresses an injured worker’s physical, functional, behavioral and vocational needs. A simulated work environment, focused on functional task retraining, is created to increase the ability to properly perform job requirements.

Commonly referred to as work conditioning or work hardening, these programs are more intensive than traditional physical therapy in both scope and time. Sessions last multiple hours and focus on strengthening and increasing endurance to full body function.

Identifying Prime Candidates
Injured workers who have medium to very heavy physical demands or endurance-based work requirements are prime candidates.

Take the case of a delivery driver who was in a vehicle accident resulting in bilateral shoulder pain. A traditional physical therapy treatment plan could have resulted in successful return to work, but after six physical therapy visits, the injured worker experienced little to no improvement. The doctor ordered diagnostics that revealed a rotator cuff tear that resulted in two surgeries.

By the time the injured worker went through initial treatment, diagnosis, surgeries and post-surgery treatments, a full year had passed and the injured worker was still unable to complete all necessary job duties.

Choosing a Best-in-Class Program
A best-in-class program starts with a comprehensive evaluation to identify the physical and functional limitations preventing return to regular duty work. Ideal candidates are medically stable, motivated to return to work, and should not have any program prohibitive restrictions.

A best-in-class program will track efficacy and measure pre- and post-functional outcomes to provide return-to-work recommendations. Educational activities, such as body mechanics training or ergonomic principles, will also be included to promote safe job performance and injury prevention.

An Extra Boost
In the case study above, after a year of little to no progress, the injured worker completed an advanced work rehabilitation program focused on being able to handle a 50lb package. The individualized program including lifting, pushing and pulling activities. By the end of the program, the injured worker was able to return to work and resume full job function.

Sometimes, traditional methods just aren’t enough. Advanced work rehabilitation programs can provide injured workers with that extra boost needed to clear the final hurdle and return to work.

References
(2011). APTA – Guidelines: Physical Thearpy Documentation of Patient/Client Management.
Retrieved from https://www.orthopt.org/uploads/content_files/OHSIG_Guidelines/Work_Rehab_Guideline_Final

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