Work Conditioning: Everything You Need to Know

Work Conditioning: Everything You Need to Know

If you’ve been injured on the job, your doctor may have recommended work conditioning. But what is it, exactly? And what should you expect at your appointment?

There has been a lot of confusion about what work conditioning is. Is it for someone who didn’t do well enough in acute physical therapy? Is it the last chance to get better?

In this article, we will answer all of your questions about work conditioning and provide a detailed overview of what to expect.

What is Work Conditioning?

Work Conditioning is a program that helps people recovering from an injury or illness get back to work. The program includes exercises and activities that help improve strength, endurance, movement, flexibility, and motor control.

Work conditioning is a work-related intensive program that involves exercises as well as functional tasks and activities.

The goal of work conditioning is to help you regain your strength and stamina so that you can return to work safely and comfortably, without risking another injury.

In other words, what are your body’s needs to be able to perform all the required tasks of your job? Does it require heavy lifting or standing for long periods of time? Are you on your feet a lot or do you sit at a desk all day? These are things that work conditioning will evaluate and address to get you back to work safely.

How does work conditioning differ from traditional physical therapy?

Work conditioning has a focus on repetitive and labor-intensive tasks to imitate work conditions.

Whereas traditional physical therapy focuses on acute injury recovery. Physical therapy targets specific body muscles and functions with a goal to return to daily activities while work conditioning has a specific focus on work

Work Conditioning Vs Work Hardening

Many terms have been interchanged and developed over the years. You may hear them all used interchangeably but they really are different in their meanings

What is Work Hardening?

Work hardening was first developed in the late 1970s with the idea to prepare injured workers physically and mentally to return to full duty. It is a highly structured, goal-oriented, individualized intervention program.

The key difference between work conditioning and hardening is that work hardening is multidisciplinary in nature.

The sessions typically lasted up to eight hours a day, 5 days per week, and for up to 8 weeks in duration.

While we still hear about work hardening it is rarely used, as very few injured workers need this intensive program.

What is Advanced Work Rehabilitation?

Work Rehabilitation is a newer and more flexible approach newer and more flexible approach to work hardening and work conditioning. The program concept is to promote the goal of injured employees either staying at work or returning to work.

Advanced Work Rehabilitation programs are delivered by a single discipline, either Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy while being supported by other clinical personnel (MD, Occ health nurse, etc).

At WorkSafe Physical Therapy our Work Conditioning programs follow an Advanced Work Rehabilitation model.

Who Needs Work Conditioning?

If a person has received acute rehabilitation services and is expected to return to their old job, but can’t because they’re too weak, a work conditioning program can help.

The program will help them get strong again so they can do their job safely.

Criteria for Work Conditioning Programs:

A patient/employee should have met all of their acute rehabilitation goals as well as have a pain-free, restriction-free range of motion. The employee also should have strong return-to-work goals and demonstrate a willingness to participate in the program.

When to Begin and How long Should it Be Done?

Advanced work rehabilitation should begin once a client has successfully completed an acute physical therapy program. The client should have pain-free, unrestricted movement.

Work conditioning sessions are multi-hour sessions. Employees will spend 3-4 hours at our office for 4-6 weeks.

What Does a Work Conditioning Session Look Like at WorkSafe Physical Therapy in Wichita, KS?

An integral part of a work conditioning program is work simulation. This means that a patient performs tasks that closely mimic those that they will perform during their actual workday.

The tasks will increase in intensity as an employee progresses through the work rehabilitation program with the goal of being able to safely handle the same physical demands that are required in a normal day of work.

Each program is tailored to the individual employee based upon the evaluation. Generally speaking, the program will consist of:

  • warm-up
  • stretching
  • full-body conditioning
  • functional activities / job simulation (lifting, pushing, pulling, etc)

A Work Conditioning or Advanced Work Rehabilitation program WILL NOT include manual treatments (soft tissue, joint mobilizations, massage) or Modalities (e-stim, ultrasound, etc).

A patient/employee will be expected to self-manage the program. While the physical therapist is creating the program and supervising, independence will be promoted. The patient will be responsible for managing their time and performing the circuit correctly!

Conclusion about Work Conditioning at WorkSafe Physical Therapy in Wichita, KS

Work conditioning is a highly structured, goal-oriented, individualized intervention program that helps prepare injured workers physically and mentally to return to full duty. Sessions typically last up to 4 hours a day, 3-5days per week.

Advanced Work Rehabilitation programs are delivered by a single discipline (Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy) while being supported by other clinical personnel (MD, Occ health nurse, etc). If you have completed an acute physical therapy program and meet the criteria listed above, Advanced Work Rehabilitation may be the next step for you!

If you are an injured worker in Wichita, KS, and would like more information on our Work Conditioning/Advanced Work Rehabilitation program or any of our other services please call us at 316-269-3900 or visit us online at

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