Occupational Therapy Speeds Recovery of Severely Injured Workers

Occupational therapy is a medical practice that promotes the health of a person to recover from an injury or illness in a way that allows them to return to some degree of self sufficiency after a severe medical condition. Occupational therapy should not be confused with physical therapy which is designed to restore the loss of function to a specific body part. Occupational therapy will assist the severely injured employee to rehabilitate from a disabling injury physically, mentally, and emotionally as they adjust to the permanent loss of function.


Occupational therapy
is utilized in various medical situations including: inpatient rehabilitation, acute care hospitals, assisted living facilities, hospices, skilled nursing facilities, and rehabilitation hospitals. For the purpose of this article, we will limit the discussion of occupational therapy to workers compensation and the assistance occupational therapists provide to the severely injured employee. (WCxKit)

When an employee incurs
a life altering injury like a spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, limb amputation, loss of use of a limb or hand, or any injury that prevents the employee from returning to the prior level of employment, occupational therapy is designed to assist the employee to adapt to the permanent loss of function. Occupational therapy is more than just medical recovery. It will also entail psychology, sociology, and other aspects of daily living.

Occupational therapy will assist
the severely injured employee in numerous ways. The occupational therapist can assist the employee in the following ways.

1. Stabilizing the employee's medical condition so the medical condition does not continue to deteriorate

2. Facilitating mobilization

3. Restoring function (overlaps into the area of physical therapy)

4. Compensating for mobility impairment

5. Learning/relearning sensory processes

6. Learning skills to adapt to the loss of function

7. Coordinating care from medical providers of various disciplines

8. Returning the injured employee to a meaningful life

9. Teaching adaptive skills for eating, bathing, grooming, dressing, etc.

10. Teaching the use of adaptive equipment – wheelchairs, artificial limbs, shower benches, etc.

11. Regaining the ability to live independently

Occupational therapy can also be utilized when the employee's injury is severe, but not life altering. It is often used in conjunction with physical therapy to optimize the use of a severely damaged hand or arm. The occupational therapist will work with the injured employee to teach the employee to compensate or adjust to biomechanical issues. The occupational therapist will tailor the treatment plan to the individual's needs.
When the employee has the ability to regain enough physical capacity to return to the former job, or to some time of employment, occupational therapy will provide “work hardening”. Work hardening is a customized approach to recondition the employee's cardiovascular, neuromuscular, and biomechanical systems. Work hardening will use either real or simulated work activities along with exercises to assist the employee in the transition from non-working to working. It will often start with the employee “working” 2 to 4 hours a day, 2 or 3 days a week. The time frame, both sessions and days, is gradually increased until the employee is able to work 8 hours a day, five days a week.
Occupational therapists are often called upon to provide a functional capacity evaluation (FCE) after the course in work hardening. In an FCE, the employee goes through a series of testing to determine what the employee can safely do in a variety of tasks. The FCE will also be used to establish what level of accommodations, if any, the employer will need to make in order to return the employee to full duty or permanently modified duty. The FCE is also used in some states to establish the level of permanent impairment rating that will be assigned to the employee. (WCxKit)
Occupational therapy is often the employee's “last stop” in the medical recovery process between injury and the return to work. Or it will be the last stop between injury and the permanent total disability status where the employee will never be able to return to work. The skill level of the occupational therapist can impact the overall outcome. Therefore, it is imperative the employer and the claims office understand the importance of occupational therapy and select the most qualified and skilled occupational therapy facility for the injured employee. 

Author Rebecca Shafer
, JD, President of Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing, publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. Shafer is the author of the leading book on workers compensation cost control  www.WCManual.com   See www.LowerWC.com for more information. Contact: RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.

WORK COMP CALCULATOR:  www.LowerWC.com/calculator.php
Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker or agent about workers comp issues.
©2011 Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law. If you would like permission to reprint this material, contact Info@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.

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