Getting injured workers back to work

Stetzer Cheryl

By Cheryl Stetzer, MPT, Aquacare Physical Therapy


Work-conditioning physical therapy is a specialized program designed to help individuals recover from musculoskeletal conditions or injuries and improve their function to return to work. It involves intensive, work-related activities and exercises that simulate job tasks to rehabilitate and strengthen patients.

This type of physical therapy is typically recommended for patients who have experienced work-related injuries, chronic pain, or conditions that limit their ability to perform their job duties, and who are going through the workers’ compensation program.

Some common ailments that can be treated through workers’ compensation and work-conditioning programs: 

  1. On-the-job orthopedic injuries: Those injured on the job and need rehabilitation to regain their physical abilities and return to work.
  2. Individuals with repetitive strain injuries: Such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, or bursitis caused by repetitive motions or overuse at work.
  3. People recovering from surgery following a work-related injury: Those who need to regain strength, endurance, and function to return to their job post-surgery.
  4. Employees with physical job demands: People in physically demanding occupations, such as laborers, construction workers, or warehouse employees, who require specific training to prevent future injuries.


Exercises to improve function

Work-conditioning programs typically consist of various physical therapy techniques, including therapeutic exercises, functional training, and work simulation tasks. By gradually increasing the intensity and duration of work-related activities, patients can improve their strength, endurance, flexibility, and overall function necessary for job performance.

Either before or after a work-conditioning physical therapy program, the physical therapy team at Aquacare will complete a functional capacity evaluation to determine the performance of an injured worker. Functional testing incorporates aspects of material handling and non-material handling job functions such as climbing, standing, reaching, pushing, pulling, carrying, lifting, and more. The evaluation allows the team to determine if the worker can safely resume his or her job.

Functional capacity evaluations (FCEs) are important tools for physicians, worker compensation case workers, lawyers, employers, and the worker to progress from injury to return to the workforce. 

A work-conditioning program aims to improve a patient’s physical capabilities with more intensive functional training in job-specific tasks.

At Aquacare, we offer FCEs and work-conditioning programs. These programs must be approved by a workers’ compensation adjuster, and they generally are not covered by conventional insurance.

If you are out of work due to an injury or if you are an employer looking to partner with an expert physical therapy team to help employees return to work, contact Aquacare to learn more. Call 844-547-7432, the Aquacare location nearest you, or schedule online at


Chery Stetzer, MPT, has 27 years of physical therapy experience in industrial rehabilitation, performing FCEs, and providing work hardening and work conditioning programs. She sees patients at Aquacare Salisbury – Injury Center. To schedule an appointment, go to


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