Using interdisciplinary rehabilitation to manage returning to work for chronic pain sufferers

By Mohsen Paknejad


Chronic pain is often a lot more complicated to deal with than an acute injury in terms of returning an injured person to the workplace. In these cases, a biopsychosocial model, rather than a traditional biomedical model, is required for effective management.

This is where interdisciplinary rehabilitation comes in. It draws on inputs from a combination of medical, therapeutic and psychological specialists who work as a team to support a chronically injured worker.

My team at Konekt Workcare (part of the APM Group) provides this service for our customers, which includes insurance companies, employees and employers from all over Australia.

The differences in needs for single vs chronic injuries

‘Acute’ pain generally corresponds with a single injury and the normal healing period. Pain that lasts for longer than three months is clinically defined as ‘chronic’.

In this phase, the function of pain changes. It is more a reaction to the pain, than feeling the pain itself. Reaction to pain differs according to a number of factors, such as personal learnings and life experiences, and chronic pain indicates a maladjustment to the effects of the injury.

This is why we need to use a biopsychosocial model and bring in various disciplines to support the patient. We have to deal with all of the psychosocial/mental elements as well as physical.

How my interdisciplinary rehabilitation team assists patients and employers facing chronic pain situations

Cases referred to us for rehabilitation involve people who are detached from their job for a longer than anticipated time due to chronic pain. Here, we apply a biopsychosocial model for management and with the aim of helping the patient achieve their goal of returning to work.

Our interdisciplinary rehab team of specialists such as psychologists, exercise physiologists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists works together on the recovery plan for the patient.

We consider the worker as a whole person and make accommodations and modifications in their workplace that are not only based on physical requirements, but also the individual psychological and social status of the sufferer.

This includes looking at how we can develop a safe and suitable return to work that doesn't reactivate the pain. To do this, we find ways they can perform suitable job tasks within their physical capabilities that don’t aggravate or cause pain. An example might be not lifting things, or not using the side of the body that had the injury.

We also provide psychological training because pain is subjective: chronic pain needs to be dealt with by the sufferer differently to how they dealt with the acute pain. A psychologist with expertise in the pain field can teach the worker how to deal with pain while doing specific tasks.

Working together to achieve positive outcomes

Helping people return to work safely and comfortably, even while living with chronic pain, is core to my team’s mission.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting chronically injured workers, our interdisciplinary approach at Konekt Workcare enables us to give our customers an accurate, precise and most importantly, highly effective service that is tailored to the needs of the individual.

To learn more about the job opportunities at Konekt Workcare, head to our website.

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