How Movement Education Helps Reduce Downtime and Speed Return to Work Plans

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5 September 2023

How Movement Education Helps Reduce Downtime and Speed Return to Work Plans

Studies have shown that early therapeutic interventions, including movement education, yield measurable benefits when addressing pain and physical injury, such as overuse injuries. These benefits include shorter recovery times and fewer days away from work. In one study documented costs associated with worker injury were 42% lower when therapeutic interventions were applied early in the recovery process.

Movement education is the practice of teaching people how to move their body properly. By adopting these healthful movement practices the injured person builds strength, coordination, and flexibility, avoids re-injuring themselves, and avoids further aggravating old injuries. (Learn more in “The Importance of Setting Up Ergonomic Workstations for Office Workers“.) When dealing with recovery from pain or physical injury, movement education can play an important role in recovery, rehabilitation, and return to work plans. (Learn more in “8 Step To Reduce Workers’ Compensation Costs“.)

Here are some of the ways movement training can reduce downtime and speed up the return to work for injured workers.

Movement Education’s Role in Injury Recovery

While rest is often needed to heal an injury, without physical exercise muscles can atrophy and seize up, leading to rigidity. Rigidity not only limits movement, it also causes pain. To avoid these complications, the medical team overseeing the treatment of the injured person will often include movement training in the recovery plan at the earliest point possible. (Learn more in “The Importance of Determining an Employee’s Pre-Existing Injuries“.)

Movement training often brings pain relief by strengthening muscles, encouraging blood circulation, releasing endorphins, and encouraging proper posture, coordination, and movement. The effect of this pain relief can be so significant that movement training has been seen as an alternative to prescription opioids in some cases.

It is not just the physical needs of the injured person that are addressed with movement training. Physical exercise is known to improve mood and psychological state. Also, by including activities that mimic movements needed on the job, movement training can build the injured person’s confidence, bolstering their feelings of readiness for work.

Movement Education and Work Modification

How an injured person progresses through movement education can also help identify any needed accommodations and define reasonable expectations for their return to work plan in order to help them be fit for work. (Learn more in “8 Key Areas of Ergonomics Employers Must Consider“.) These indicators can point to a return to work plan for light or transitional duty as being appropriate for the injured worker. By returning workers to lighter work loads, or otherwise modified duties, the injured person gets back on the job and to work sooner rather than later. Returning to work quicker can reduce costs associated with worker’s comp, avoid “disability syndrome,” and strengthen workplace morale and productivity.

When a person suffers an injury, many aspects, both physical and mental, of their ability to function can be affected. (Learn more in “Supporting Employee Mental Health in the Workplace“.) Movement education can help encourage recovery and get them back to work sooner than otherwise possible. Sometimes the recovery happens in stages, but even partial improvement can make it possible for the person to return to work for light or transitional duty and shorten their time on disability.

Movement Education to Reduce New Injuries

Movement education can reduce the likelihood of new injuries. Through movement education faulty or dangerous physical movements can be corrected. The injured worker can build muscle strength, flexibility, resilience, and stamina. All of these are attributes that contribute to worker safety and productivity. Effective movement education will help injured workers perform their duties more safely and productively well beyond the time covered by their return to work plans.

Because work often has complex physical demands, movement training includes several different kinds of exercise. These various kinds of exercise are aimed at imprinting better, healthier movement habits, building muscle strength and flexibility, relieving pain, and avoiding re-injury.

Movement Education Exercise Types

Movement training can include corrective exercises, strength training, flexibility training, balance training, and building stamina.

Corrective exercises teach how to move properly, breaking bad habits, and avoiding more injury. These exercises are individualized and generally focus on a specific part of the body, like the hips or shoulder. They are prescribed by a physical therapist or medical professional after an examination.

Strength training builds muscle strength and supports proper alignment and posture. This can bring pain relief along with avoiding new injuries. Strength training can be done using machine weights, free weights, and even your own body weight to strengthen muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.

One caution: just because a person can lift or carry a heavy weight doesn’t mean they can do that safely. Strength training alone is not enough. It must be coupled with coordination and flexibility training.

Flexibility training supports proper movement, muscle elasticity, and resilience. While strength training builds the ability to handle heavy or bulky loads, flexibility training builds the ability to move those loads safely and without injury. Most flexibility training is focused on stretching with the goal of improving range of motion and improving physical performance.

Balance training is essential for controlling movements and avoiding falls. Good balance is more than just being able to stand on one foot. It is needed for movements as simple as being able to walk up and down stairs or as complex as jumping over a puddle. Effective balance training involves engaging muscular strength and proprioception (i.e., spatial orientation, how you know where your body is in relation to the space around you) in order to control your movements.

Building stamina is needed to be able to do work activities throughout the whole work day. Depending on the injury physical and/or mental stamina can be affected. Physical exercise can build back up a person’s physical stamina and endurance. Mental stamina and work tolerance requires mental exercises like meditation, visualization, puzzles, and mental stimulation.

Movement Education After Returning to Work

As with most training, movement training shouldn’t just stop once the injured worker returns to the job. In order to maintain the good movement habits, strength, flexibility, and stamina gained the exercises, and good practices learned in movement training, need to be practiced regularly. At first, this may mean that movement education is part of the injured worker’s return to work plan, where they are detailed along with performance goals and timelines. In the long term, it means that what was learned needs to be integrated into the daily routine and practiced regularly.

Movement education can take a lot of different forms and be implemented both as part of recovery and return to work plans. While the specific type of physical and mental training will vary, effective movement education results in the injured returning to work sooner as safer, stronger, and more productive workers.