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Work Hardening Improves Work Function and Prevents Future Injury

By Eboni Morris, manager, government relations and public affairs

Work hardening, as defined by the American Physical Therapy Association, is a highly structured, goal-oriented, individualized intervention program designed to help an individual return to work by improving work function and preventing future injury.

Work hardening is implemented once the initial injury is resolved. The program consists of creating a simulated work environment in which injured workers can develop strength, endurance, movement, flexibility, motor control and cardio capacity related to their actual job functions. The program addresses all of an injured worker’s needs – physical, functional, behavioral and vocational. Often times, the program also includes educational activities that promote safe job performance and injury prevention.

Work hardening is experiencing a revival and programs are continuing to drastically improve. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, return-to-work programs should include services, such as work hardening, that have been effective in getting people back to work quickly. Unfortunately, workers’ compensation eligibility and requirements can make implementing an individualized program for an injured worker a complex process.

State agencies can help  break down these barriers by improving access to evidence-based return-to-work services, increasing incentives for injured workers and their employers to implement them, and communicating with all stakeholders regarding an injured worker’s needs.  

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