Going Back to Work During or After an Injury

Going Back to Work During or After an Injury

Going back to work after an injury can be scary, and we often think that we have to be 100% before returning to work. Think about sports though; there are all sorts of ways to return to sports safely after an injury without being 100%. If you return to work or sports too early, you are at risk of re-injury, but if you wait too long, you can end up with unnecessary de-conditioning. 

Staying out of work longer than expected can create a greater risk for re-injury due to reduced overall fitness. Let’s look at return-to-work as a continuum—alongside recovery and rehabilitation. Remove the idea that you need to be 100% to return to work and recognize that in order to be 100%, you have to go back and do the things you were doing pre-injury. People typically  follow this process with sports injuries but seem to forget this with work injuries. The body follows the same rules no matter how or where you were injured.       

What Do Studies Say?  

Physical therapists live by the rule of move it or lose it. Movement is the way to heal and thrive with chronic pain or post-injury. Excluding catastrophic injuries, such as fractures and spinal cord injuries, research states inactivity shuts down muscle, restricts blood flow, and leads to tissue atrophy. Conversely, movement improves blood flow, which helps heal tissue. That means that as part of recovery, we may need to use limited motion or exercise to improve after injury.  Our bodies are meant to move, and this promotes healing and helps to reduce pain. Keeping the severity of the injury in mind, limited rest with minimal movement is the key to recovery and return to work. Communication with your doctor is equally important to make sure your injury is stable before you return to activity. 

You Are Responsible For You

In regards to returning to work, you control your body. Stay positive and understand that during recovery, a little bit of discomfort is normal and goes away as you gain endurance, ROM, and strength. If you are at work, approach each situation with good body control, pay attention to mechanics, break down the load, and be mindful of reaching out of a safe zone, including overhead, to the side, and twisting. Take your time and be thoughtful about how you move. Don’t be afraid to change your position from how you “normally” do a movement to accommodate or compensate for discomfort. It is important for employees to learn techniques like self-massage, stretching, micro-breaks, and strategies to reverse postural and positional stress. This will help reduce musculoskeletal fatigue and prevent re-injury. This will also help mitigate an employee’s anxiety about discomfort in returning to work, making a smoother transition back to work. 

Communicate With Your Employer 

Continuous communication in a solution-led way is the key to success. Make sure to discuss any restrictions from your doctor with your employer. Being proactive about injury prevention and making sure that the workplace is safe is the number one way to prevent work re-injury once on the job. This includes assessing the workplace and correcting any potential dangers, as well as being prepared in the event of an accident. Be sure to discuss what you can do, along with what may be hard for you with your employer. Consider alternate job duties as you continue to get stronger and improve.   

We’re Here for You

Early intervention after a workplace injury is key. Physical therapists can work with your doctor and are body mechanic experts. Therapists can assess your injury and not only assist with getting back function through rehabilitation and work conditioning but can also offer solutions for longer-term management of symptoms to help avoid re-injury. Additionally, physical therapists can discuss ergonomic solutions to help reduce strain at work and assess any risks that may exist in the workplace.   

Article By: Molly Fostek, PT, MSPT, CMTPT 

Molly Fostek, PT, MS,PT, CMTPT graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medical College of Virginia.  She has practiced in outpatient orthopedics for over 22 years with a special interest in work injury management for the last 20 years.  She has had extensive training in performing functional capacity evaluations, pre-work screens, work hardening and impairment ratings. She also has training in ergonomic analysis in the workplace.   

Molly believes that “patients don’t fully recover to return to work, they return to work to fully recover.” Ivy Rehab recognizes immediate access, accurate functional testing, timely communication and the expectation that safe return to work is a goal of treatment are vital to achieve successful outcomes. She currently treats in the Virginia Beach area of Virginia. 



  1. youareunltd.com/2019/07/26/why-movement-is-better-than-bed-rest/ Why Movement Is Better For Healing Than Bed Rest ByKatherine O’Brien 
  1. https://www.work-fit.com/blog/avoid-being-re-injured-after-returning-to-work-by-prioritizing-these-5-recovery-steps 
  1. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/initiatives/saw-rtw/research-pubs 
  1. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Return_to_Play_in_Sports 

The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.

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