Understanding work hardening is important. Work hardening is a rehabilitation service that stems from a need to manage people who injure themselves at work yet have to return to the same activity that caused injury. If you only perform a strenuous activity at home, such as shoveling snow, you may strain your lower back. If you have a relatively sedentary job, you can often return to work after a brief period of rest. For you, work-related activities will not aggravate your condition.
Many people, however, have production-oriented jobs where they lift heavy objects or perform repetitive motions throughout the day. Such activities often lead to injuries due to repeated stress on parts of the body. For people in this situation, it is difficult to return to work quickly. Doing so exposes them to the same repeated stress on their body that caused their injury.
Therefore, a dilemma presents itself. Employers want the injured worker to return to work as quickly as possible. This limits the cost of worker’s compensation. The worker, however, wants to protect themselves and only return to work when they feel it is safe.
Understanding Work Hardening – Treating This Condition For Employers
Work hardening is a rehabilitation service that includes an evaluation of an injured worker’s physical and functional deficits. The results of that evaluation serve to develop a plan for a safe return to work. Work hardening services concentrate on two main factors that contribute to most worker injuries. These are specialization and physical deconditioning.
Specialization is a term that refers to the manner in which workers perform the same work-related activities throughout a workday. Typically, the worker becomes more efficient in the performance of those activities and often this leads to increased productivity. However, only certain areas of the body are involved in performing the work-related activities. Consequently, overuse conditions may develop over time and lead to injury.
Understanding Work Hardening – Treating This Condition For Workers
Work hardening services attempt to teach an injured worker to conserve energy and relieve stress on certain body parts. This involves education in such things as proper postures and body mechanics as they pertain to work-related activities.
Physical deconditioning tends to be a significant a factor in contributing to work injuries. Workers involved with strenuous activities must consider themselves as athletes. They must maintain a certain level of physical conditioning in order to perform to work-related activities without injury. Medical professionals must also view the injured worker in this manner.
Work hardening services include complete exercise programs. Such exercise programs concentrate on strengthening those muscle groups involved with the performance of a person’s work responsibilities. They also attempt to influence the individual to address lifestyle issues such as stress, nutrition and regular exercise. Lifestyle issues often contribute to a worker’s overall physical condition.
Work hardening services are the best way for injured workers to test their ability to perform work-related activities in a controlled environment. These services offer an education that may change the worker’s thinking about how they perform their job. Finally, at times, workers even learn a better way live their life.
Thomas Suspenski, PT, ATC
797 E Lancaster Ave. Suite 2
Please refer to patient education for other brief articles in our educational series. It is through these articles, in part, that we keep our patients (and others) informed of common injuries and conditions, their treatment and healthcare in general.