How physiotherapy helps your return to work

Returning to work after an injury can feel challenging and uncertain.

Physio helping patient test shoulder mobility

Physiotherapists play a key role in recovery and return to work for their patients. They are part of the team of health professionals who help someone to remain in or return to work.

Work gives us a sense of purpose and self-worth, which is incredibly important for our physical and mental health.

There is more to recovery than receiving treatment. The sudden onset of an injury, illness or disability affects the patient and live of their loved ones.

Making returning to work one of your goals

Individuals are more likely to return to their hobbies and sports when they return to work, this increases their satisfaction, build confidence, and improve their overall wellbeing.

Return to work (RTW) programs help ease employees back into work and adjust to their new needs.

Studies have found the likelihood of an employee returning to work decreases, the longer they are away from work.

Returning to work should be a key focus during recovery. Remaining active, including while at work, is an important part of recovery.

Role of physiotherapy

Physiotherapists who specialise in occupational health can provide guidance to people who are ready to return to work after an injury or absence.

They can support a person with functional strengthening programmes, graduated return to work plans and workplace assessments.

When returning to work it is important that the worker’s ability matches the demands of the job, otherwise the return to work will be unsuccessful.

In a return-to-work program, a physiotherapist can support the employee and employer.

They complete workplace assessments, along with advising and implementing any required interventions which can assist with a return to work.

Understanding interventions

In situations where the employee needs additional support to complete the core tasks of their job, interventions will be necessary.

The employee’s ability is the benchmark for returning to work. Each person responds differently to pain and that will influence their recovery.

Interventions also accommodate the employees pain levels, helping them manage their activities and movement. Examples of these include altering certain work tasks or reviewing ergonomic technology for example.

When assessing someone’s fitness to return to work, personal and work-related factors have an impact. These include:

  • Depression, anxiety, and psychosocial factors
  • Pain management and tolerance
  • Fear of movement
  • Pain catastrophising
  • Low self-efficacy
  • Pain coping mechanisms

Physiotherapists consider how a wide range of factors, not just pain, affect work capacity and performance.

If an individual fears that work will worsen the condition, it may have an impact on their ability to return to work.

How physiotherapy can help

Physiotherapy can restore function and movement, relieve pain, improve strength and conditioning, promote long-term health, reduce the duration of an injury, prevent the risk of future injury and correct imbalances and improve work conditions

Functional testing

Functional testing is also important when reviewing a patient’s ability to return to work.

It is usually task based and an individual is assessed doing a range of tasks, including strength-based activities, postural tolerance, balance, lifting mobility and hand dexterity.

Functional measures are most appropriate for tracking age-related differences in functional capacity.

Working with a physiotherapist can mitigate the factors which can prevent someone returning to work, emphasising:

  • Pain is often not caused directly by work, although some situations at work may exacerbate symptoms.
  • If managed appropriately, time off work is often not needed.
  • Work in a well-managed environment can support recovery.
  • You do not have to be 100% pain-free before return to work can be considered.
  • Pain does not mean that work and activity are harmful.
  • Staying active and at work helps people recover more quickly.
  • An active rehab plan is important and doing functional activities as exercises that simulate work demand is an important part of recovery.

Power of education

Providing education on stress management, posture, safe handling, and workstation ergonomics are also part of a physiotherapist’s scope.

Returning to work after illness or injury benefits both workers and employers and reduces the risk of long-term loss of employment.

If you are recovering from an injury currently, discuss and encourage your health care provider to refer you to a physiotherapist, to assist with your return-to-work and getting you back to work safely

You can book an appointment with an APM Physiotherapist online or in your local area by calling 0800 967 522.