When workers compensation injuries result in damage to the musculoskeletal parts of the body, it is often necessary for the treating physician to send the injured employee to a physical therapist. Physical therapy, also known as physiotherapy, is a type of medical service design to develop, maintain or restore the employee’s normal body movements.
When an employee injures a limb or joint, or has surgery on a limb or joint, the treating physician will often recognize the employee’s range of motion is limited, or the functioning of the limb or joint is below what it was prior to the accident or surgery. The injury has created an abnormal condition within the employee’s body making it difficult for the employee to do normal tasks. The goal of the physical therapist is to assist the employee in regaining prior functioning level. A side benefit of this is often a reduction in pain from the injured body part.
With workers compensation claims, the injured employee is normally dealing with a physical therapist who specializes in working with muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and joints. Other physical therapist specialist who could treat workers comp injuries may specialize in skin problems resulting from burns or wounds, or nerve injuries and related muscles, or breathing and lung problems.
The primary treating physician will have a working relationship with various physical therapist in the local area. The physician will recommend the physical therapist best suited for the type of injury the employee has. The physical therapy will be conducted in an out-patient clinic setting.
Depending on the severity of the injury and the need for physical therapy, the physician will prescribe the expected amount of physical therapy treatments the employee may need. The request for treatment will state something like three treatments per week for five weeks.
During the first visit to the physical therapist, the therapist will review the injury information provided by the physician, the amount of care the physician is prescribing and then determine a treatment plan to address the employee’s needs. The treatment plan can include improving flexibility, endurance, strength, coordination and balance.
Usually the first step for the therapist is to introduce therapy designed to reduce swelling, stiffness or pain. The actual physical therapy sessions can include various modules of care. The initial modules can include water hydrotherapy, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, heat packs and cold packs. These are normally followed by stretching, walking, weight lifting and various types of exercise. The physical therapist will often teach the employee exercises to be done at home that are specifically designed for the employee type of injury.
In addition to the various modules of care provided by the physical therapist, the therapist will create a total treatment plan. This will include educating the employee on how to avoid re-injury and in how to avoid injury caused by repetitive motion. The best physical therapists incorporate into their treatment plan not only the physical treatment, but also the psychological and emotional support needed by the injured employee.
At the end of the treatment period, the employee will return to the physician to be evaluated on the progress in recovering from the injury. Depending on progress made, the physician can request further therapy, end the therapy or try a different treatment approach.
The outcome of physical therapy will depend on several factors including the level of disability, the type of physical impairment, any complicating medical issues (like degenerative disc disease or diabetes) and the skill and expertise of the physical therapist. Physical therapy is normally less expensive than the alternative approach of surgery and is definitely less invasive. Overall, physical therapy benefits the employee in a high percentage of the cases where it is used
Author Rebecca Shafer, President, Amaxx Risks Solutions, Inc. has worked successfully for 20 years with many industries to reduce Workers’ Compensation costs, including airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality and manufacturing. Contact: Info@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com or 860-553-6604.
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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.
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