Onsite Physiotherapy – More than just a quick fix

Author: Clare McCann

Onsite physiotherapy is so much more than treating a worker in a clinic at their workplace. Being onsite creates an opportunity to understand worksite layout and the operations of the workplace. There are key work elements that you cannot replicate within the four walls of the clinic. At Axis, we truly believe in being visible and involved across the workplaces we service.

My typical day as an onsite physiotherapist could involve speaking with workers on the floor, reviewing people’s workstations, analysing specific work tasks, running exercise sessions, and creating reversal exercises for a work function. All of these can be invaluable in reducing the risk of injuries occurring and speeding up recovery for injured workers.

I want to share a story about Nathan*, whose recovery was short and made possible by having access to the worksite.

Nathan presented with acute wrist and lateral elbow pain after lifting 20kg boxes repetitively. He was seen onsite the same day and had significant restriction in his wrist movements and lifting capacity. He was placed on a Suitable Duties Plan. His wrist pain settled within 1 week, however his lateral elbow pain had not resolved.

Nathan informed me that his lateral elbow tendinopathy was recurrent. In 2021, it took 6 months of modified duties to recover, while he was on a Worker’s Compensation claim. On further discussions, I learned that Nathan’s injury recurred at the same work area, during the same month every year.

Our main goal was more than settling Nathan’s current pain problem; he needed long term resolution. Physiotherapy involved manual therapy, advice and wrist strengthening and spinal mobility exercises. It would take more than this to achieve our goal.

I assessed Nathan’s ergonomic setup and technique when operating the forklift. Due to Nathan’s height, he had to slouch to reach the controls and would drive in this position for many hours each shift. I prescribed reversal exercises to counteract his forklift setup position. After a week of doing these exercises, Nathan was pain free.

I also reviewed the work task that led to Nathan’s pain and identified it as a hazard due to high force and high repetition. There was only 1 worker performing this high priority task, and the same person complete this task each day for many weeks. I spoke with management and recommended an additional worker, and rotation of staff through this area. Within a week, this hazard and the associated risk had been mitigated.

After 6 physiotherapy sessions over 6 weeks, Nathan had no pain and returned to full work duties. He returned to the aggravating work area on multiple shifts following his injury without pain. We would not have achieved this outcome, and our shared goal, without onsite access.

There is so much more to workplace injuries than what you can assess and measure in the clinic. Everyone benefits from spending time onsite, especially to reduce the risk of future injuries.