Returning to Work After Injury: It’s Whats Best for the Worker
On the surface, it might sound like having some time off of work to recover from an injury would be great! You can have a break from the daily grind, hang out at home, do whatever you want, and in a few weeks or months, maybe head back to work.
But wait, the reason you’re off work is because you’re injured! That’s not cool! You really cannot do whatever you want because you’re supposed to be resting and recuperating. I’ll tell you what, after being off of work for three weeks after having my gallbladder removed, I was stir-crazy.
It can be difficult and stressful to know when you can go back to work. When you’re dealing with back pain or neck pain, it’s not as cut and dry as having a gallbladder surgery. “Take 3 weeks off and you’ll be fine” is what I was told. It’s not the same when you don’t have an incision. It’s not the same when you cannot sleep at night because your back hurts. It’s not the same when you have a headache and you cannot concentrate.
You may be nervous about returning to your job – especially if that is where you were injured. But the truth is, it’s probably the best thing you can do.
What happens when we don’t go to work everyday when that’s what we’re used to doing? We may get lazy. It’s easy to be sedentary at home. Why even bother to get dressed when you don’t need to be anywhere? Why get up and move? We might put on a few pounds. Feel even stiffer. Become even weaker.
The likelihood of anxiety and depression kicking in at this point is much higher than when we are doing something that gives us purpose. And for a lot of us, our job is a significant source of purpose in our lives. Not to mention most of us need that paycheck!
So here’s a common scenario: You hurt your back bending and lifting at work. You can barely move, so a doctor advises that you take a 4 week break and reassess later. It’s a bit relaxing not having the work stress for the first week. You hang out and watch lots of movies and get caught up on all of the Facebook gossip. After a few days of that, you’re starting to get pretty restless. You’re so bored, all you can notice is how much your back hurts. Is it ever going to get better? You feel lonely and miss talking to your coworkers – even the ones from whom you wanted a break! You laze away another day. Your partner comes home from work and is exhausted. She doesn’t understand why you couldn’t have at least bothered to do the laundry since you had all day to do it. She doesn’t understand why your back hurts so much because you look fine! You’re getting a bit behind on your bills because your income is non-existent, or at best, only 60% of what it was. You cannot sleep at night because you haven’t even done anything to make yourself tired. So you lie there awake. For hours. Repeat the next day. And with each passing day, you might become more and more afraid to return to work because it’s been soooo long and you just don’t know at this point if your body can take it.
Consider this: After a couple weeks of recuperation, you return back to work. You have your purpose. You’re keeping busy. You realize that the distraction really is helpful. You keep your body moving. You don’t get as sore. As some time goes by, your back pain seems to move way into the background of your day. It’s actually kind of nice to be back in the groove!
We see lots of patients at PDR who are in various stages of contemplation and return to work. Our physicians, occupational therapists and physical therapists will teach you how to manage your symptoms, improve your ergonomics and improve your bending techniques so that you can feel confident in returning to work. We can troubleshoot any potential barriers you might foresee. In many cases, we give you the green light to return to work while you’re still coming in for therapy, that way we can provide you with continued guidance throughout the process. Our ultimate goal is that you’re happy and successful!