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10 Work Comp Did-You-Knows

Bardavon | Workers' Compensation

Physical and occupational therapy are excellent approaches to addressing musculoskeletal problems after a workplace injury. Workers’ compensation cases can be difficult to navigate for employers, workers, and therapy providers.

In honor of Bardavon’s 10th year, we’re sharing ten facts about worker’s compensation that you should know.

Rules change state to state

The differences between state laws can affect patients, employers, and providers. Guidelines and rule updates are regulated by each individual state’s workers’ compensation department (which you can find on your workers’ compensation state board website). For employers, it’s crucial to understand your state’s guidelines and rules for workers’ compensation or to work with experts that do.

Workplace injuries are common

A third of your day is spent at work, so it’s no surprise that a third of injuries in the United States happen in the workplace or during occupational activities. There were 2,804,200 non-fatal injuries and illnesses in private industries in the U.S. in 2022. That accounts for millions of injuries each year that may involve workers’ compensation claims.

Injuries often mean lost work

In 2020, almost 2.7 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported, with nearly 43 percent resulting in lost workdays. While many people return to work after a minor injury, a good portion of injuries in the United States lead to recuperation away from work or restricted duties at work. For employers, that could mean reduced staff and other associated costs. For workers, it could mean returning to work at a lower capacity and reduced wages.

Injuries can happen over time

Not all injuries are dramatic events. Many workplace injuries happen during an accident with equipment or machinery, or because of a slip, trip, or fall. However, some injuries result after a period of wear and tear or consistent strain. You may find that a stiff joint at the end of a workday just gets worse over time. You may need to address these kinds of injuries with physical therapy, but they may also require workers, employers, and safety team members to examine how job tasks are performed to prevent strain injuries in the future.

Workers’ comp focuses on return-to-work

In physical and occupational therapy, the goal is often to improve mobility and decrease pain. But an injured worker needs to be able to return to work at full capacity. Workers’ compensation cases can be more challenging and complex because the functional goals are more specific and more demanding.

Secondary factors can impact recovery

Musculoskeletal injuries are a problem with the human machine, but humans are more than muscle and bone. Secondary factors like mental health, nutrition, and a patient’s recovery environment can make a big difference in return-to-work outcomes.

Increasing clinical attention to biopsychosocial factors can result in better treatment outcomes. Focused interdisciplinary rehabilitation programs have been shown to achieve return-to-work rates as high as 50 to 88 percent.

Work-specific activities are important

Speaking of focused rehabilitation, it’s important that the treatment process is tailored to individual needs. The plan of care for an office worker that sustained an injury during a weekend tennis match will look different from a warehouse worker that uses their body in specific ways every day.

Work-specific tasks during recovery can rebuild the strength and dexterity needed to return to work. Job-specific care plans are also better indications of work readiness than a care plan that is just aimed at reducing pain or increasing mobility.

Timeliness matters

Workers’ compensation cases can be complex, but connecting workers to medical care and physical therapy quickly after an injury is important to return-to-work outcomes. Long wait times between the injury and physical therapy can mean worsening injuries, strength loss, and loss of job-task-related skills.

When an employee is out of work for more than six months, they have less than a 50% chance of ever returning to work in any capacity. When the goal is full-capacity return to work, timeliness is even more important.

Time between clinic visits makes a difference

The time between the injury and the first steps in a plan of care isn’t the only temporal consideration in a workers’ compensation case. The time between visits during a plan of care also matters. In most workers’ comp cases, patients see their therapy provider two or three times per week. Between visits, therapy providers may suggest a home exercise plan. However, pain and psychological factors often lead to poor compliance with at-home treatment plans.

Hybrid care models that combine in-clinic treatment with tech-empowered, at-home care support help to make the most of every recovery day. They also give the therapy provider more insight into patient progress, which can lead to better treatment decisions.

Surgery isn’t the only option

It’s no question that surgery is a vital tool in injury recovery, but it’s not always the best option and it may not be the ideal first-line option. PT and OT should be considered a first-line option for musculoskeletal treatment (when able). Surgery is invasive and requires recovery time that often involves low activity. Shifting physical therapy into the first-line position may mean avoiding unnecessary surgeries and a more efficient return to work.

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