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Monday, 3 February 2014

Athletic Therapist in an Occupational Setting

We would like to thank Mat Bonneau, Certified Athletic Therapist for giving us this insight as to what it is like to work in an occupational setting. 

So I’ve been working in occupational testing for 2 years now, and it’s something I never thought that I’d be working in coming out of school. The opportunity has been good thus far although the job definitely comes with its own set of challenges.

As an athletic therapist, I am responsible for assessing a person’s medical history to help make a determination if they are able to complete our lifting test. We hold our clients to pretty strict standards to help ensure that they do not injure themselves while doing the test or something that could be potentially harmful on the job site. Occasionally we also run the physical portion of the test depending on how busily our day gets booked up. We see everybody from the lean 18 year old heading out for his first job on the rigs who’s never had so much as a cold to the overweight 55 year old type 2 diabetic, hypertensive operator who’s looking for a job to take them to retirement. We get quite a range of characters coming through. For the most part things run smoothly but occasionally we run into people who are more difficult to deal with. Like any service type job, how our day goes depends a large part on who companies send us each day.

Typically, a client goes through a brief pre-medical screen before coming to see us. We take a few measurements such as height, weight and blood-pressure to make sure there are no concerns with a client taking the test. We then go over their medical history with them, making sure to highlight and talk more in depth about any health conditions that may be red flags. Every once in a while I’ll come across a condition which I’m not as familiar with. We have a medical review team of medical doctors, chiropractors, physiotherapists and athletic therapists that help us to discern what may need to be looked at by another health professional or can continue through our testing without any restrictions. All of our files are reviewed by this team to make sure that everything is covered. Any type of medical clearances or restrictions are take care of by this department.

After going through a client’s medical history, we typically review their injury history looking for dislocations, fractures, sprains and strains. This can be challenging because clients may try to hide or not disclose information that they feel may hinder their opportunity to find a job. We check a client’s joint range of motion, muscle strength and ligament laxity to determine if a candidate is fit enough to not only complete the test, but also safely work at the job site without putting them at risk of further injury. We tend to focus on problem areas such as shoulders, low backs, knees and ankles throughout our assessment, while also keeping in mind common workplace injuries such as medial/lateral epicondylitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. The most difficult part of the job comes when you have to stop somebody from performing the lifting portion of the exam. Sometimes a person understands why we have a concern about the injury or medical condition in question and sometimes they don’t. We see people who have had a rotator cuff tendonitis for years but feel it is just part of getting old and don’t ever seek treatment for it. Other times they've had surgery and we just want proof that a surgeon feels that they are safe to go back to work without any restrictions. It can be a very touchy subject because a person feels if they don’t get through all their testing on the first day that they won’t get the job. It does put us in an awkward situation sometimes but we do our best to try and explain everything to our clients to the best of our ability.

Each physical test is set for a company based on a site analysis done by one of our assessors. The test doesn't change much from company to company but we vary the weight of the test based on what the person will be doing on the job site. The test is always run by a person with an exercise background, whether it’s a PFT, Kinesiologist or one of our assessors to ensure client safety. The test takes about 30 min to run for each group. We start with a brief cardiovascular test and proceed to a lifting test. Throughout the physical test, we are looking for a person’s ability to safely perform the lifting portion of the test using proper lifting technique for each lift. Clients are closely monitored to ensure that we are not putting them in danger throughout the testing. People will try and push themselves past their limits sometimes in order to attempt to secure a position within a particular company, so we do our best to prevent them from causing any injuries throughout our testing.

Overall it’s been an enjoyable experience working in occupational testing. It’s a really good chance to be exposed to different medical conditions and it’s a good chance to work on your assessment skills. On a busy day you can assess 25-30 people so it’s a good opportunity to be hands on with your muscle testing and special tests. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work in this field and appreciate being stretched outside the box of a typical athletic therapy setting.

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