Work conditioning is a comprehensive program that focuses on the whole body, not just the area of injury. For example, when a worker attends physical therapy after a right shoulder surgery, the therapist only works with the right shoulder. Physical therapy goals focus on improving range of motion and lessening pain with ice, heat and other techniques. Treatment is focused on the injured area and to help regain function of that area.
The problem with this focused approach comes in if, using the same shoulder example, the worker will be working constantly overhead as a pilot, or he or she will be hanging IV bags overhead or lifting patients. Having that range of motion is essential, but without also building the strength, the worker may not be ready to return to work.
Work conditioning is the next step, and it is like having a personal trainer to help the injured worker work out for two to four hours every day. The exercise increases the worker’s general conditioning and works to increase muscle strength, not only in the shoulder, but also in the arm, the back, and the pectoral muscles that are going to support the shoulder muscles during lifting and overhead work while they continue to heal. Job activities are also simulated, so the worker can gain confidence, learn to work safely, and regain a work-like schedule after being inactive during recovery. During work conditioning at Job Ready, job specific objects are obtained and handled as a part of the daily program because items like plywood and concrete chutes and beer kegs require very different mechanics to maneuver than a box with weights in it.
A work conditioning program is recommended for injured workers that need to return to a physically demanding job or that have reached a plateau in physical therapy. A plateau means that a worker has made gains in physical therapy but isn’t progressing past that. Ideally, work conditioning comes after physical or occupational therapy and before an FCE. Even for a sedentary job, work conditioning might help an injured worker return to the job comfortably enough to sit or stand for long periods of time.
How is Work Conditioning Structured?
An injured worker comes in for an initial evaluation where baseline measurements on the area of injury are taken. With the shoulder analogy, the injured worker is asked to hold their hands overhead, reach forward, lift overhead, push and pull, etc. These activities can then be repeated throughout the work conditioning program to make sure that gains are being made.
After the initial evaluation, the injured worker starts attending sessions five days a week. The session starts with a warm-up, just like with any kind of exercise, and then follows a given set of exercises designed to strengthen the area of injury and the muscles around it.
After three 2-hour sessions, the injured worker is progressed to 3-hour sessions, and then up to 4-hour sessions. After ten visits, the activities from the initial session are repeated to document any gains and evaluate whether further work conditioning visits are recommended.
If the worker is making progress and has room for improvement before meeting their job demands, then continuing work conditioning is recommended. If no progress is documented or attendance/compliance is an issue, the program is halted and, at that point, the treating therapist may recommend a functional capacity evaluation.
If you have questions about Job Ready’s work conditioning program or how work conditioning may help in a particular situation, please call us at 919-256-1400 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.