6 March 2020 posted by Recovery Partners

Back story (no pun intended)

*Michelle was a cleaner who sustained a back injury in the course of her duties, leaving her with no capacity for work. ‘The nature of Michelle’s injury meant that her functional capacity was reduced, she wasn’t able to lift heavy things and she was also managing pain in her lower back,’ says Anita Nikolovski, Senior Rehabilitation Consultant at Recovery Partners.


Michelle’s GP advised that she attend treatment sessions with a physiotherapist while she recovered. ‘Michelle attended physio sessions twice a week initially, then tapered off as she progressed,’ says Anita. ‘The physio was focussed on building her strength and mobility and helping her understand best practice manual handling and ergonomic techniques.’ Michelle slowly increased her capacity, but her movement was still limited, and her pain was hard to manage. ‘Back pain is always tricky,’ says Anita. ‘It can be hard to diagnose and the path to recovery isn’t always predictable.’ Michelle and Anita had regular contact while Michelle was undergoing treatment, and Anita believes their good rapport was an important factor in keeping Michelle’s return to work on track.

Making a plan to return to work

‘While Michelle was engaged in her treatment, she didn’t necessarily know how to make a plan for returning to work, and neither did her employers. I felt like she really needed my guidance and was happy to have someone to work with.’ Michelle and Anita exchanged regular text messages, and Michelle often called to update Anita on her progress. Not all workers want this level of contact, says Anita. ‘It’s different with everyone. As a consultant, you need to use your instincts to gauge what sort of relationship and contact the worker needs from you. Whatever the case, it’s important that they’re comfortable with you and they understand you’re there to help them recover. That helps them to feel invested, too.’

Persistence is key

Anita also had to be persistent with her communication efforts with all stakeholders to keep steering them towards the goal of Michelle making a full and safe return to work. ‘Sometimes, one of the parties may be particularly busy or not understand what’s required of them, so you need to stay on the case and be really determined to keep everything moving.’


Eventually, Michelle returned to work for just nine hours per week and her employer found suitable duties for her to perform while she built capacity. About three months after her injury occurred, Michelle’s GP cleared her for a full return to work, which is a pretty typical time frame, Anita says. ‘When Michelle did return to work, she was tolerating her duties and only reporting intermittent symptoms. It was a good outcome, and I was pleased to have been able to help facilitate it.’

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*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals and organisations involved.

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Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/