Avoiding and recovering from work-related injuries

Posted by Laura Breeher, M.D.
May 29, 2014

Laura Breeher, M.D.

Common questions about occupational medicine

Time away from work can be a wonderful thing, as long as it’s planned. Missed days of work because of injury are not in the same category as vacation or paid time off. Unfortunately, work-related injuries are the reason behind more than 1.1 million missed work days, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s why occupational medicine providers are around — to help prevent work-related injuries and rehabilitate those who do suffer injuries. Let’s look at what occupational medicine really is and some common questions occupational medicine providers face.

Q. What is occupational medicine?
A. Occupational medicine provides a full spectrum of services aimed at keeping employees of regional companies healthy and safe at work. Occupational medicine providers offer physical examinations, health recommendations and other wellness programs to prevent illness and injury at work. Additionally, we help people who have been injured on the job to get back to work.

Q. I hurt my back at work. Should I take time off to rest?
A. The first step would be to see a physician to determine what is causing the pain. We see a lot of back injuries in occupational medicine as these are common in many workplaces. If there is not concern for a fracture or herniated disc, the best treatment is anti-inflammatory medication, stretching and modified work activities to keep as active as able. Bed rest has been shown to prolong healing time for back injuries. So, keep moving as much as possible.

Q. How do I prevent back pain and injuries at work?
A. Here are some basic tactics you can employ to keep your back healthy at work:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Strive for 30 minutes of exercise each day.
  • Use good posture — keep weight balanced on your feet, avoid slouching, and use a pillow or rolled towel on your chair, if needed, to support your back.
  • Lift heavy objects using your legs, not your back.
  • Pay attention to your body — if you’re aching, take a break or ask for help.
  • Try to break up repetitive tasks.

Q. What should I do about pain and numbness in my hand?
A. See a physician as soon as you have concern about hand pain as it is easier to resolve when treated quickly. If you think the pain is caused by your work activities, an occupational medicine provider will want to learn more about your job, your symptoms and how the injury occurred.

Most hand pain can be reversed quickly with temporary work modifications, decreasing inflammation and bracing. If the pain was caused by ergonomic issues at your workstation, we may come to your worksite to do an evaluation of the workstation and recommend modifications to improve the pain and prevent it from recurring.

Q. Are there new guidelines for DOT exams for commercial drivers?
A. Yes. On May 21, 2014, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) began requiring commercial motor vehicle drivers to be examined by a health care professional listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. The DOT only will accept physical examinations and CMV medical certificates from certified providers.

Mayo Clinic Health System has providers certified to perform physical examinations on drivers seeking commercial motor vehicle licenses. Our goal in occupational medicine is to keep drivers healthy so they can be safe on the road. We follow DOT recommendations and regulations for certifying drivers and will work closely with drivers to help make sure they get evaluation and treatment of any conditions that could limit their ability to drive. We value the importance of drivers and the transportation industry to our country and economy. We want to keep drivers on the road if possible.

Occupational medicine is available to help you and your co-workers stay healthy and able to do your jobs — no matter what industry you work in. Coupling knowledge of work-related injuries with actions to prevent them will keep you healthy and at work.

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