High rates of employee injury within the health care industry are well documented[1
]. Previous reports regarding the incidence of work related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMD) indicate that physiotherapy (also known as physical therapy) and occupational therapy are two professions that are at high risk [5
]. Studies amongst physiotherapists (PT) have revealed as many as 91% experience WRMD during their career[5
] with recurrence rates of up to 88%[16
]. It has also been reported that 80% of PT experience symptoms in at least one body area over a 12 month period [5
]. One in six PT have been reported to change their area of specialty or leave the profession as a result of pain or injury[5
The physically demanding nature of work tasks and clinical demands are believed to contribute to this high incidence of WRMD amongst therapists [8
]. This physically demanding nature has been observed to result in the adoption of awkward postures, such as bending and twisting [19
]. Additionally time pressures associated with the clinical environments can result in therapists not taking break entitlements in order to meet patient treatment demand [19
A similar prevalence of WRMD amongst occupational therapists (OT) has been extrapolated from a systematic review of the literature for other health disciplines [3
]. A recent report provided the first preliminary empirical evidence specific to OT, in which a convenience sample reported a career incidence of 80% and twelve month incidence of 63% for WRMD [11
]. These conditions may be associated with considerable personal and financial cost to individuals and have significant impact on the career path and retention of health professionals [3
It is imperative that strategies to effectively prevent and manage WRMD are sought in order to reduce the burden on health professionals and sustain a viable workforce. Prevention of WRMD in nursing professionals has been extensively investigated and whilst there are similarities in clinical environment, patient types [9
], and some overlap in patient handling there is a need to explore strategies specific to PT and OT due to the different nature of their clinical tasks [21
]. Recommendations have been made around legislative requirements[23
] and policy statements issued by relevant professional bodies [24
]. Some studies[5
] have described strategies used by PT or OT in response to WRMD, however, there have been few investigations of strategies currently being used by these health professionals to prevent WRMD [5
]. Only one study of hand therapists[26
] (PT and OT) has investigated PT or OT views regarding strategies that could be implemented to further reduce risk of WRMD.
An exploratory investigation of these issues amongst PT and OT clinicians from across a range of clinical settings was required to inform future injury prevention efforts to help retain health professionals in clinical roles. Due to the overlap between patient related factors and many clinical tasks completed by OT and PT clinicians, it was considered worthwhile to investigate risk factors and strategies to prevent WRMD amongst both OT and PT professionals.
In order to address this need, this investigation explored issues of WRMD as perceived by the health professionals working in these roles. The first aim was to identify the risks perceived by PT and OT as most likely to limit their capacity to continue working in physically demanding roles. The second aim was to identify strategies these health professionals are currently using, or believe could be used in the future, to enable them to continue to working in a physically demanding clinical environment. Due to the exploratory nature of this investigation there were no specific hypotheses regarding the likely similarity or differences in responses between the two professional groups.