As an athletic trainer, part of my responsibility is to ensure my patients, athletes, and employees are able to return to the functions that mean the most to them. When injuries happen at work, especially in physically active jobs, there are often fears that a patient/employee will have about returning to the same activities they did for their job prior to injury. This is where work conditioning can be a game changer.
The Center’s work conditioning program starts with listening to the needs of the patient and determining the demands of the job. I always seek to understand what the functional requirements are of each patient and what they may fear about returning to the same job. I also set goals with the patient that are consistent with the determined demands and then make a plan to meet these goals. I structure exercises and naming schemes to match what they may see and hear while at work.
When I set out to start this program, I didn’t realize how rewarding and beneficial this would be not just for me but for each patient I have had the opportunity to work with. What we do in work conditioning doesn’t just effect and change what gets done during the work day, but it transcends into everyday, personal functions.
One of my first patients was a former Division 2 football offensive lineman. He was not a patient for a lower extremity injury, but his job required that he be able to squat. When I told him we would assess his squat abilities and practice squats he quickly replied “Oh, I don’t squat!” He had previous injuries that complicated his squat function. I was shocked because he had played football for four years at a high level and was on the O-Line. A co-worker and I took a few minutes to look at his squat function, hear his explanation of pain and where it was, and then addressed his dysfunction. Within 15 minutes he was rattling off air squats like they were some new found game he loved to play. He expressed frustration that he was just learning this now, and gratitude in knowing he’ll be able to play with his future kids without worrying about pain in his knees.
A major benefit and overall goal of work conditioning is that we get to integrate the injured areas back into full body movements and address why an injury may have happened in the first place. Using the patients described job demands as part of the normal exercise plan during their sessions helps them build confidence that they will get back to work safely and with a reduced risk of reinjury.
While working with a first responder who had sustained a shoulder injury requiring surgery, he was happy to note how much more confident he was in returning to work because of work conditioning. He only wished a program like this would have been available when he was recovering from knee injuries. For many firefighters and police officers, they must pass a physical fitness/abilities test before they are allowed to return to full work duty. This firefighter passed his test in a personal record time. He attributes going through work conditioning as being a major factor in his physical ability as well as his confidence to go back to work.
The Center’s work conditioning program is designed to strengthen our patients and the companies they work for. Patients who go through work conditioning return to work faster, have a reduced risk of re-injury, and generally stay in the same role for longer durations. The patient wins because they get stronger and more confident in their ability. The employer wins because patient comes back quicker with reduced risk of re-injury. And the insurance company wins as they have less employees off work and this translates to savings. And I win knowing I helped someone get their life back.
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