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The Role of Occupational Therapy in Work Rehabilitation and Return to Work Programs

Home News & Videos JAG Physical Therapy Blog The Role of Occupational Therapy in Work Rehabilitation and Return to Work Programs

Occupational therapy (OT) assists those recuperating from injury or illness to overcome everyday challenges and lead more independent and productive lives.

OT plays a crucial role in work rehabilitation by guiding and supporting patients toward a safe and timely return to work after an injury or illness. Work rehabilitation occupational therapy focuses on retraining and reintegrating the patient to a more accommodating version of their previous workplace.

Returning to work after a life-changing event, such as an amputation or severe injury or illness, can understandably feel impossible. You begin to ponder difficult questions – How will I commute to work? Will I still be able to perform my job duties? What if I become a burden to my coworkers?

At JAG PT, our team of expert occupational therapists will develop a personalized return-to-work program based on your occupation and specific needs. We’ll ensure you get back to doing what you do best through expert guidance, conditioning, and work rehabilitation. Schedule an appointment with us today to begin your journey to a healthier life.

What Is the Role of Occupational Therapy in Work Rehabilitation?

In contrast to physical therapy, which treats specific injuries and illnesses, occupational therapy focuses on the patient as a whole. A work rehab occupational therapist works hand in hand with each patient to develop an effective return-to-work plan. They may use various techniques and tools to help the patient regain vocational skills, functionality, and independence in the workplace. This involves training the patient to adapt to new workplace challenges, use specialized workplace accommodations, and change their environments or routines to be more productive and independent.

Going back to work after a long injury or illness-related absence takes time, learning, and readjusting. A work rehabilitation occupational therapist guides patients through every step of this difficult transition process.

Components of Effective Return-to-Work Programs

A return-to-work program is a multifaceted, step-by-step plan addressing all the patient’s (and even their employer’s) concerns about rejoining the workforce. An effective return-to-work program includes the following essential elements:

  • Patient assessment: The first step in work rehabilitation is a thorough assessment of the patient’s abilities and limitations concerning their occupation. The results from this assessment draw a baseline for the return-to-work program.
  • Setting personal goals: After the initial assessment, the occupational therapist works with the patient to develop work-related goals. Both the patient and therapist have a candid discussion about what’s realistic depending on the patient’s condition. 
  • Education: The occupational therapist prepares the patient for the return-to-work program and what outcomes to expect.
  • Skill retraining: After serious illness or injury, the mind and body may lose the ability to perform certain work-related tasks, such as operating machinery, typing, and crafting. A big part of work rehabilitation involves relearning lost skills.
  • Ergonomic evaluation: In some cases, the patient requires ergonomic aids, such as special seats, mobility assistants, and modified user interface controls to perform certain jobs. 
  • Integrating workplace accommodations: The patient can only do so much to adapt to their work environment. The occupational therapist assesses the patient’s workplace and pinpoints areas that can be adapted to better suit the patient’s unique work requirements.
  • Monitoring: After the patient returns to work, the occupational therapist continuously monitors their progress and performance and intervenes with new solutions for evolving needs.

Occupational Therapy Techniques for Work Rehabilitation

Occupational therapists use various techniques to rehabilitate patients and get them back to work. Common work rehabilitation techniques include:

  • Post-surgical or post-injury safety education
  • Task analysis
  • Scar and pain management
  • Sensory reeducation
  • Motor skills and dexterity training
  • Orthosis fitting and training
  • Hand-eye coordination training
  • Mirror therapy
  • Assistive device fitting and training
  • Therapeutic exercises for functional conditioning
  • Job-specific exercises, activities, and rehearsals
  • Vocational counseling

Everything an occupational therapist does is tailored to the individual patient. Work rehabilitation techniques vary widely between patients depending on the job in question and the patient’s physical or mental health conditions. Ultimately, work rehabilitation OT enables individuals to transition back to work safely, quickly, and confidently.

What Are the Advantages of Occupational Therapy in Returning to Work?

Work rehabilitation occupational therapy fosters smooth back-to-work transition and successful reintegration into the workplace. With improved functionality and awareness, you can return to work as productive and independent as before. More importantly, OT ensures a safe return to work by minimizing the risk of injury and greenlighting the transition in the first place.

Transitioning back to daily routines and work marks a significant milestone in the recovery journey from illness, surgery, or injury. Individuals experience greater happiness and fulfillment when they engage purposefully and independently in their lives. Occupational therapy tailored towards work integration empowers patients to reclaim their confidence and independence.

JAG Physical Therapy: Your Work Rehabilitation Partner

Are you thinking of returning to work after an injury or illness? JAG PT is here to help you pick up where you left off. Our team of skilled and experienced occupational therapists will develop a tailored work rehabilitation program that guarantees a successful return to work. Live your life to the fullest by reclaiming your independence, career, and livelihood – find your nearest location in NY, NJ, or PA or book your appointment today.