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How Onsite Physical Therapists Can Reduce Occupational Stress

Stress is unfortunately quite prevalent in today’s workplace. Twenty-five percent of the workforce consider their job their most significant stressor. This statistic may be surprising, considering all the other possible stressors in life – including family, social and financial. While not all stress is bad for us, long-term stress that goes unchecked can negatively affect our health. Furthermore, on-the-job stress is more strongly associated with health complaints than any other stressor.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines occupational stress as the harmful physical and emotional responses when the job requirements do not match the worker’s capabilities, resources, or needs. There are two types of occupational stress – worker characteristics and worker conditions. NIOSH believes working conditions play the primary role in occupational stress, but more research is underway. Exposure to stressful working conditions (job stressors) has a direct influence on worker health and safety.

Watch this video by Brain Boyle, PT, DPT as he presents practical tips on preventing occupational stress.  Brian is an expert on this topic and will be speaking at the National Ergonomics Conference on  November 2, 2021, at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. Be sure to check it out if you are attending the conference!


There are numerous types of stressful work conditions, including:

  • Design of tasks, when the tasks are too heavy and not enough breaks
  • Management style including poor communication
  • Interpersonal relationships such as lack of support from management or co-workers
  • Environmental conditions and dangerous working conditions.

Many of these stressors can lead to an on-the-job injury, which can cause additional stress, including depression, the financial strain of being out of work, and family and social anxiety, as being in pain can affect the family dynamic and leave people unable to participate in social activities.

Employers are now offering onsite services provided by licensed physical therapists (PT) at their worksite. The primary goal of the onsite PTs is to reduce musculoskeletal injuries using a combination of various injury prevention activities and clinical intervention. Employees are finding that the PTs are also helping reduce workplace stress.

Six Ways Onsite PT Helps Reduce Stress in the Workforce

1. Remove the Financial Burden

Having a PT onsite can remove or significantly reduce the financial burden on the employee. Onsite PT services have low or no copays. Since employees visit with their PT at the workplace, there is no lost work time. Most states have direct access laws in place for PTs. These laws allow examination and treatment of injury without a referral from another provider do it isn’t necessary to see a primary care physician before starting treatment.

2. Build Employee Trust

Trust in the employer is a significant predictor of an injured worker’s likelihood to return to work following an injury. Conversely, low trust workers are two times more likely to remain off the job when injured. Onsite PT can play a significant role in building trust in the workplace. The time PTs spend with employees builds personal relationships, resulting in employees experiencing faster care and peace of mind. Employees have a trusted provider ask for advice that has familiarity with their workplace and job for coaching. The PT advocates for the injured employee and can assist with navigation through the Worker’s Compensation System.

3. Job Coaching

Onsite PTs coach employees on how to best perform job tasks, which gives individual employees a better understanding of how to perform their job more efficiently. This coaching boosts employees’ confidence regarding their job, which and helps reduce stress. Job coaching also allows for trust and interpersonal relationships to develop between the PT and employee.

4. Worker Role Readiness Programs

Onsite clinics conduct Work Conditioning Programs for new hires. These programs address physical health and ensure that the new employees are conditioned to meet the new job demands. The process typically involves addressing opposite muscles of what is used during daily work tasks to avoid overdevelopment and overuse of the muscle.

5. Ergonomics

The onsite therapist can observe workers performing tasks and help with advice and support during return-to-work transitions. In addition, PTs with advanced training assess and perform Ergonomic Risk Screens programmatically and provide recommendations about job conditions that can increase employee stress, such as the design of tasks and environmental concerns. Onsite PTs also assist with engineering controls and the design of workspace/equipment.

6. Screen Employees for Depression

PTs onsite can screen employees for depression and refer them for treatment follow-up if needed. PT conducts awareness training for supervisors and employees for depression signs and symptoms to increase knowledge on depression companywide. In addition, PTs can introduce intervention integration strategies such as micro-breaks into the workplace.

Reducing stressors in the workplace helps improve worker productivity and enables employers to save significantly on bottom-line spend in healthcare.

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