The Big Comeback: Returning to Work after an Injury

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If you have ever heard of occupational therapy, it was likely in relation to occupational therapists’ work helping school students who have physical or mental challenges or helping older adults recover from an illness or injury. An occupational therapist is also a common person someone with a work-related injury may come into contact with.

Occupational therapists have a unique skill set that allows the—through the use of assessment and treatment—to develop, recover, or maintain the daily living and work skills of people with a physical, mental, or cognitive disorder. Occupational therapists help their patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily life and work.

For those of us with physical jobs, there is always a risk of injury. Preventing injuries at work is key to maintaining your physical abilities. Be sure to follow all of your company’s safety guidelines to avoid accidents and injuries. If you do get injured, an occupational therapist can help.

In the case of a workplace injury, occupational therapists help people return—gradually and carefully—to their full work capacity. In this case, the occupational therapist’s aim is to help the injured person resume their full job responsibilities in a safe and productive way.

The occupational therapist’s first task is to evaluate your job and its required demands. This includes looking at the job classifications, job set up, and activities required of you. This may even include observing you while you are on the job. Because of occupational therapists ability to evaluate and treat, they will be able to recommend modifications to job tasks that will allow you to perform your job safely. Then the therapist will be able to monitor these changes and upgrade your activities as your deficits resolve. The goal being of your program will be to upgrade your activities to return to full duty.

The occupational therapist may recommend a transitional work program. Transitional work is a step in the recovery process when a person is able to complete some job tasks but is not yet at full capacity. It includes job coaching, instruction, and education in safe work practices to prevent further injury. The program usually includes a combination of meaningful job tasks that you are able to perform safely. The goal is to facilitate the worker’s complete and total independence and function at work.

If you get injured and need to work with an occupational therapist, your cooperation is key. Do not over estimate your ability and capacity to complete job tasks. Take time to learn about adaptations that can help you execute your job safely. And don’t forget to prevent. And remember, following your company’s safety guidelines prevents costly and time consuming injuries in the first place.

Michaelia St. Jacques, MS, OTR/L, CWCE, is an occupational therapist with Southwestern Vermont Medical Center’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Department. She is a certifi ed functional capacity evaluator and helps patients return to work and other activities they love safely. “Health Matters” is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.