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Q. My spine condition has kept me out of work for some time. When can I get back to work, and how will I know I can do my work safely?
A. Physical and occupational therapists use their knowledge in human movement, ergonomics, injury prevention, and treatment of work-related accidents and injuries to make sure their patients are safe when returning to work. To understand the type and nature of your job, your therapist may ask you several questions. The information you give can help your therapist design exercises that are similar to your tasks to help prepare you for a safe return to your job. Your therapist may want to go to your worksite and watch how your work tasks are done. This will give your therapist information about risks and whether any changes need to be made. Even small changes in the way your workstation is designed or how you do your job can make a big difference in your comfort and safety at work.
You may need to participate in a physical capacity evaluation (PCE) before going back on the job. This type of testing takes up to five hours and is sometimes done over the course of two days. The PCE measures your physical abilities when doing various work tasks. The results of the test can give everyone involved in your recovery a clear picture of your ability to do your job tasks safely. This is a way to protect you from going back to a job that is too challenging or that could lead to re-injury. If so, your therapist can help by making suggestions of ways to change your job or work tasks so you can return to work safely.