Return to work for workers with shoulder or neck injuries

Plan for an early and safe RTW or to allow an injured staff member to stay at work. Work is good for our physical and psychological well being. Psychosocial risk factors tend to develop the longer someone is off work, increasing the risk of a poor RTW outcome.

Treatment for neck and shoulder pain may include: advice to stay active, modify activities that may lead to long lasting increases in pain and simple pain medication. Treatment may also include massage and manipulation and exercise rehabilitation. Soft collars are best avoided for neck pain.

“Hands on” treatment should lead to sustained increases in function, rather than only short term pain relief. It is more effective when combined with an exercise program. Good treatment empowers the worker to develop self management strategies.

Involve your injured staff member in RTW planning Ask them “What duties do feel you could perform? Great, what else? How confident are you that you could perform these duties? How could we support you in your RTW?”

Suitable duties – Identifying suitable duties for an injured worker is a team effort – don’t do it alone! The general principles below apply when identifying suitable duties for workers with neck and/or shoulder injuries, but always be guided by the their treaters

Suitable Duties – Neck

  • Avoid postures that involves extremes of neck movement (eg looking down at written work, looking up ceilings)
  • Ensure shoulder postures remain as relaxed as possible
  • Altering posture regularly based on time not pain levels !!
  • Work that involves flexing or extending the neck should be avoided.Ergonomic adjustments to the work environment may be necessary.
  • Repetitive activities involving the neck may increase symptoms.
  • Heavy lifting and carrying should be avoided as well as lifting with outstretched arms.
  • Lifting and working overhead may need to be restrictedSuitable Duties – Shoulder
  • Work at waist height, close to body. Bring work to body, rather than reaching.
  • Limit sustained postures – allow muscles to relax regularly
  • Altering posture regularly based on time not pain levels
  • Limit loads lifted – depends on position of upper limb, the higher the lift the lighter the weight lifted
  • Limit frequency of loads lifted- light repetitive use may increase symptoms equivalent to a single heavy lift
  • Repetitive activities involving the shoulder or arm may increase symptoms
  • Limit pushing and pulling in line with restrictions, on flat/even surfaces.
  • Ensure trolley wheels are in good condition.Utilise Occupational Physiotherapists and Network Pain Program providers.Develop links with good providers who see RTW as treatment and encourage injured staff members to access these providers.Help!
  • Communicate with treaters and your WorkSafe Agent
  • Utilise Occupational Rehabilitation Services if required
more hot topics ›