Workplace injuries are not sports medicine injuries!
Firstly, having worked with workplace/workcover injuries and within the occupational health setting for many years one can easily state that work injuries, be it a sprained ankle ankle or what appears as a simple back strain, are not sports medicine injuries. They are far more complex with far more moving parts and parties involved in achieving a good outcome. As a young Physio you are often left wondering how come my WorkCover clients with what appears to be the same injury as my other clients take so much longer to get better….. Let’s explore.
What causes workplace injuries?
The physical risk factors are actually quite simple. However, the non physical factors are far more complex. So let’s explore both parts.
Physical risk factors are those such as:
- Awkward postures such as stooping or reaching away form the body
- Static or sustained postures such as sitting or standing too long
- Repetitive movements such as typing or preparing those lattes that we all enjoy in the local café
- Duration – doing the same task for a long time (more than 30mins!)
- Vibration such as that which goes through the arm using a power tool or the whole body when using certain machinery
Some non-physical risk factors which make workplace injuries more complex are:
- Lack of influence or control over one’s job
- Increased pressure (e.g. to produce more in a certain time)
- Lack of or poor communication
- Monotonous tasks
- Perception of low support (e.g. Manager or co-worker)
Now that has just made the situation much more complex! Does that mean we need to discuss and manage a worker’s relationship and support from their manager and team mates? Yes. Does that mean we need to discuss and manage (and modify) the tasks that a worker does in their job? Yes.
What will we discuss with our new clients with work injuries?
- Discussion of your work injury and how it happened, plus the risk factors above which may be present
- Detailed explanation of the Work Cover process as it can be overwhelming for injured workers
- Discussion of the job demands of your role (what do you need to be able to do to return to your job)
- Establishing return to work goals and time frames
- Assessment of your injury AND your current work capacity
- Regular communication with your doctor and other parties to ensure suitable treatment and management is provided
- Treatment to help your pain AND ensure you can complete the main tasks needed in your job role
- Regular re-assessment of your work specific lifting, carrying and bending capacity
- If you don’t have capacity for your pre-injury job, can we get you back to work in another role as WORK IS VERY GOOD FOR US?
Don’t forget your mental health.
Workplace injuries can be slow. That is ok. Your return to work needs to be safe and only when you are ready to return. The longer you are off work the more likely you are to develop some other symptoms which need management too, like worry about the future, depression, anxiety or lack of motivation. It is absolutely normal to develop these symptoms if you have been off work or in pain for a few months.
As a young Physio you would avoid these conversations with clients as they were tricky and uncomfortable. With experience you know that you cannot achieve a good return to work outcome by avoiding these conversations. We should not be treated as an ankle or a back. We should be treated as a person.
All of us have physical health and all of us have mental health. They are not separate issues and need to be carefully managed together. If you or anyone you know are struggling with a work related injury we would love to meet you and discuss how we could help you move forward.
It may be complex but it is possible.
Principal | Physiotherapist | WHS Consultant