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Return-to-Work Programs Q & A

What are Return-to-Work Programs?

As a part of occupational therapy, return-to-work programs are specifically tailored treatment plans that are designed to get you back to work as quickly as possible following a work-related injury or illness. These programs can come in two distinct varieties: work conditioning and work hardening. Deciding which program would be right for you depends on some medical factors you should first discuss with a licensed therapist.

What is Work Conditioning?

Work conditioning is designed for job-related injury victims trying to reenter the workforce. Comprehensive in its approach, work conditioning patients tend to display little to no behavioral or chronic pain symptoms and are focused instead on restoring physical and vocational functionality. It is especially important in work conditioning to elevate the patient back to their normal capacity so that they may return to their old jobs with no impediments. In many cases, the patient previously had to work either part-time or at a reduced functional grade.

Work conditioning requires patients to concentrate aggressively on their physical rehabilitation, and many treatment plans can range between 4-8 hours a day over the course of 10 days or more.

What is Work Hardening?

Whereas work conditioning is much more of an individual, small-scale program, work hardening is an equally comprehensive treatment plan that is much more of a team effort. Patients qualifying for work hardening likely have a behavioral or chronic pain issue that is actively interfering with their ability to reenter the workplace at previous functionality levels. As a result, work hardening is undertaken using a multidisciplinary approach that emphasizes physical, behavioral, psychosocial, and vocational improvement.

Candidates for work hardening can come from many different sources. For example, they might have reached a plateau using more conservative rehabilitative methods, or perhaps they are recent surgical patients. In either case, work hardening sessions typically last around 8 hours a day over 15-20 days.

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