Can A Physical Therapist Write Work Restrictions? Yes, Here’s What You Need to Know

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As we go about our daily routine, work is one of those things that take up most of our time. But what happens if injury or illness sets in? What do you do when your doctor recommends restricted duties to help with the recovery process?

In such a situation, it’s natural to seek clarification on who can write work restrictions, especially if you’re unsure about where to turn next. If this has been a concern for you, then physical therapists can offer much-needed assistance in terms of customized work restrictions.

Physical therapists are healthcare professionals trained in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal injuries, including back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, arthritis, and others. They assess patients’ physical condition and create personalized treatment plans aimed at restoring function, decreasing pain, and general rehabilitation. However, their role goes way beyond providing therapy sessions only.

“Physical therapists do an assessment of the injured employee’s physical demands and evaluate how that person may be able to return to some form of productive employment within the parameters established by the medical provider,” – Keith Overland, PT, MS, President of the American Chiropractic Association.

If you’re wondering whether a physical therapist can write work restrictions, then the answer is yes. Read on to find out more about the regulations governing work restrictions and why involving a physical therapist could be a step towards a speedy and successful recovery.

What Are Work Restrictions?

Work restrictions are limitations placed on an employee’s job responsibilities due to a medical condition or injury. These restrictions limit the activities that an employee can perform at work and include limitations on physical abilities, such as lifting heavy objects, standing for extended periods, and using industrial machinery.

The aim of work restrictions is to help employees with health conditions to continue working while reducing the risk of further injury. They can also provide guidance on safe and appropriate accommodations that employers can make for tasks that may be difficult or dangerous for an injured worker.

Definition of Work Restrictions

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), work restrictions are physical limitations that prevent an employee from carrying out all or some of their normal job duties. This definition extends to both permanent and temporary injuries, illnesses, or disabilities that could impact an individual’s ability to do their job safely and effectively.

A licensed medical professional typically provides these restrictions after evaluating the employee’s condition and work requirements. The recommendations often specify weight limits, time duration, body positioning and equipment usage limits needed for the employee who has been restricted by their healthcare provider. The employer usually receives this information in writing on one occasion throughout the employee’s tenure when it becomes relevant.

Importance of Work Restrictions

Work restrictions are essential in helping individuals with health conditions return to work safely. By outlining the limitations they face under certain circumstances, workers are less at risk of experiencing further injuries or complications related to pre-existing conditions. It also allows for identification of modifications that must be made by the employer based on the functional capacity of the individual who was medically evaluated.

Employers can use work restrictions like guidelines and resources to identify how best to modify an employee’s role in order. Properly modifying the employee’s role like reducing workload, modifying work hours or temporarily changing their job duties will enable them to return to the workforce quickly without risking further harm.

“Work restrictions are an essential part of injury recovery since they guide injured employees on what level of activity is safe for them and prevent more injuries from occurring. – Jermyn Creighton, Sports Medicine Physician.”

A physical therapist may develop work restrictions documents that serve as instructions to employers about the impact of low-level abilities like standing, walking or working at specific heights which may affect an individual’s functional capacity if faced with certain factors such as outdoor weather conditions. Physical therapists can recommend limits on how much weight someone can lift, distance to be walked by using a cane or crutches based on medical evaluations of current functioning levels.

These stringent assessments aim to generate customised information to implement tailored treatment planning that considers all possible employment domains affected by one’s medical restriction in order to restore both functionality and quality of life activities impaired before returning into the workforce.

“Physical therapy development of work restrictions documents are very crucial for specific modifications identified during continual patient care process to take place seamlessly before restricted workers return to priori work roles.- Jane Anderson, Occupational Therapist.”

Who Can Write Work Restrictions?

Physical Therapists

Yes, physical therapists can write work restrictions. Physical therapists are healthcare professionals who specialize in musculoskeletal and neuromuscular disorders, primarily working on improving movement, strength, and range of motion. They play a significant role in treating injuries and chronic illnesses that limit an individual’s mobility.

Apart from providing therapy sessions, physical therapists also evaluate the overall functional status of a patient to determine their ability to perform certain activities or tasks. Based on this assessment, they may issue work restrictions outlining what specific duties or activities the worker can or cannot do. These restrictions help employers create a safer workplace environment for everyone involved, minimizing injury risks and promoting better health outcomes for workers.

“A physical therapist is specifically trained to diagnose and treat movement impairments to improve function,” says Karen Joubert, PT, DPT, owner of Joubert Physical Therapy in Beverly Hills. “This includes evaluating patients’ abilities to complete movements necessary for their job functions.”


Doctors are also authorized to write work restrictions. Being medical professionals, doctors have expertise in diagnosing and managing various health conditions, including acute and chronic illnesses and disabilities affecting one’s capacity to engage in work activities.

In some cases, injured workers will seek guidance from their family physician regarding aspects related to their physical limitations at work. In such instances, doctors can issue specific work restrictions designed to protect their patients from further injury or harm while at work or home while healing.

“A doctor might recommend rest during recovery but could clear a worker to return to light duty after a period,” says Robert Lynch, a partner with Dorsey & Whirpool.

Both physical therapists and doctors are qualified healthcare professionals who can write work restrictions for individuals with physical limitations. These restrictions act as guidelines to ensure a safe and healthy working environment, enabling employees to work without aggravating underlying injuries or illnesses.

What Qualifications Does a Physical Therapist Need to Write Work Restrictions?

A physical therapist is a highly trained healthcare professional who helps people with various medical conditions, injuries or disabilities move better and live more comfortably. Part of their job might involve writing work restrictions for patients who have had an injury or condition that impairs their ability to perform certain tasks at work. However, not all physical therapists are qualified or legally allowed to write work restrictions.

Educational Requirements

In order to become a physical therapist in the United States, one must obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited program. According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), there are over 230 DPT programs in the U.S. Along with completing coursework, students must also participate in clinical rotations and pass a licensure exam to practice as a physical therapist. These rigorous education requirements ensure that physical therapists have extensive knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, and therapeutic interventions.

License and Certification

To legally practice as a physical therapist, one must hold a state license. Each state has its own licensing board, which sets specific eligibility criteria for PTs. In general, candidates must have earned a DPT degree, passed the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), and completed any additional state-specific requirements such as background checks or jurisprudence exams. Additionally, some states require physical therapists to maintain continuing education hours to keep their licenses active and updated with current research and best practices.

Certification is another way for PTs to demonstrate expertise in a particular area of specialization within the field, such as orthopedics, neurology, pediatrics, or geriatrics. While it’s not always required to have a certification to write work restrictions, having specialized knowledge can be beneficial in some cases.

Clinical Experience

A crucial aspect of becoming a competent and capable physical therapist is gaining hands-on experience in various clinical settings. Many DPT programs require students to complete a certain number of hours working with patients prior to graduation. Additionally, aspiring PTs may choose to do internships or volunteer opportunities in different healthcare facilities to gain more exposure to varied patient populations, diagnoses, and treatment techniques. It’s this kind of practical training that helps prepare physical therapy professionals for the demands of their job, including writing work restrictions when necessary.


Sometimes, depending on the case, it might be useful for a PT to have specialized knowledge in order to write suitable work restrictions. If a patient has a specific condition or type of injury, seeking out a physical therapist who specializes in that area can lead to more accurate diagnoses, treatments, and recommendations – including work restrictions. Specialized knowledge can also be beneficial to employers, as they can feel confident knowing that the work restrictions are tailor-made for the individual worker’s needs and limitations.

“Physical therapists must have excellent communication skills along with sound clinical reasoning abilities to write effective work restrictions.” -The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Not all physical therapists are qualified or legally allowed to write work restrictions. To become a licensed and certified physical therapist requires extensive education, exams, and clinical experience across a variety of settings. While there isn’t necessarily a hard-and-fast rule about needing certification in order to write work restrictions, having additional specialization and expertise can make a significant difference in creating accurate and effective work restriction guidelines for injured or disabled workers.

What Types of Work Restrictions Can a Physical Therapist Write?

Physical Therapists play an essential role in patient’s recovery by developing personalized treatment plans that help patients regain lost mobility and reduce pain after injuries or surgeries. They can also provide work restrictions to ensure patients do not cause further damage while working. Below are some types of work restrictions that physical therapists can write:

Lifting and Carrying Restrictions

Many jobs require employees to lift or carry heavy objects, which can lead to strains, sprains, or herniated discs. A physical therapist may prescribe lifting and carrying restrictions for patients who have had back surgery, shoulder surgery, or knee surgery, or those with chronic conditions that affect their strength or range of motion.

The weight limit recommended will depend on specific factors, such as the type of surgery and severity of injury. Patients must respect these recommendations to prevent aggravating their condition, even if it means requesting assistance from a colleague, using equipment, modifying tasks, or taking breaks during the day.

“In many cases, abstaining from certain activities temporarily helps speed up healing time. The more you follow guidelines on what to avoid, the sooner you’ll be able to resume your regular activity levels.” – Julie Cote, Doctor of Physical Therapy at Alliance Physical Therapy Partners.

Mobility and Posture Restrictions

Some jobs involve repetitive motions or awkward postures that can result in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, or tendonitis. A physical therapist may recommend mobility and posture restrictions for patients with MSDs, especially when the job requires excessive contact stress or forceful gripping.

For example, a cashier with trigger finger might need to restrict wrist movements or change the way they hold items to avoid putting too much pressure on the affected finger. An office worker with cervical radiculopathy might need to limit neck flexion and rotation or adjust computer screen height and distance to avoid straining their neck muscles.

“It’s all about finding positions for employees that work: things like monitor placement, keyboard positioning, using an ergonomic chair can all help to prevent musculoskeletal disorders.” – Reid Goldstein, Doctor of Physical Therapy at Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation-Katy.

Environmental Restrictions

Sometimes, work conditions can pose a significant risk to patient recovery. For example, patients with asthma, allergies, or chemical sensitivities may react negatively to certain environmental factors. A physical therapist may write recommendations to minimize exposure to hazardous stimuli, such as allergens, smoke, fumes, or extreme heat or cold.

Patients who have had surgery or are recovering from fractures or sprains may also be susceptible to slips, trips, or falls, particularly in hazardous working environments. In these cases, a physical therapist might recommend restricting access to unsafe areas, require slip-resistant shoes or provide peripheral vision tests.

“The key is planning, communication, and support systems so that everyone works together to ensure your safe return-to-work after an injury.” – Karen Litzy, licensed physical therapist and owner of Karen Litzy Physical Therapy Inc.

Physical Therapists can write many restrictions based on an employee’s condition and work environment. Patients should follow these recommendations closely to reduce the risk of further harm. Employers can play a critical role in ensuring adherence by involving physical therapists in the process and providing education and equipment when needed.

What Should You Do if You Need Work Restrictions?

If you are injured or have a medical condition that requires work restrictions, it can be challenging to navigate the process of getting those restrictions formally documented and communicated to your employer. This is where a physical therapist comes in.

Consult with a Physical Therapist

If you need work restrictions due to an injury or medical condition, your first step should be to consult with a physical therapist. Physical therapists are experts in movement and can evaluate your condition to determine what restrictions would be appropriate for you.

In some cases, just getting guidance from a physical therapist about how to move safely at work may be sufficient. In other cases, formal work restrictions will need to be written up and communicated to your employer.

A physical therapist can work with you to develop a treatment plan and help you understand any specific movements or activities that you should avoid. They can also provide advice on ways to modify your workspace to make it more ergonomic and reduce the risk of further injury.

“Physical therapists can help individuals who have experienced illness or injury gain independence and function, participate in their communities, and return to work as well as leisure activities.” -American Physical Therapy Association

Follow the Prescribed Work Restrictions

Once your physical therapist has identified the necessary work restrictions, it’s crucial that you follow them closely. Going against the prescribed restrictions could lead to further injury and potentially even permanent damage.

Your physical therapist will likely provide detailed instructions on how to modify your work tasks, including posture correction, exercises to improve mobility, and stretches that can be done throughout the workday. It’s essential to take these guidelines seriously and stick to them consistently.

If your job duties change or new challenges arise, it’s important to communicate with your physical therapist and employer. Together, you can work on modifying your restrictions as needed to keep you safe while still allowing you to fulfill your job duties.

“Following prescribed medical limitations is crucial for ensuring effective self-management of chronic conditions.” -National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

If you need work restrictions due to an injury or medical condition, don’t hesitate to reach out to a physical therapist. They can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the process of developing and implementing your restrictions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a physical therapist write work restrictions after an injury?

Yes, physical therapists can write work restrictions after an injury. They assess the patient’s condition and determine the appropriate level of activity that the patient can safely perform. This includes determining what types of tasks the patient can perform and for how long. Work restrictions help patients stay safe and prevent further injury while they recover.

What types of work restrictions can a physical therapist write?

Physical therapists can write different types of work restrictions depending on the patient’s condition. This can include limitations on the amount of weight the patient can lift, how long they can stand or sit, and what types of activities they can perform. The restrictions are based on the patient’s physical abilities and limitations. The goal is to keep the patient safe while allowing them to continue working in a limited capacity.

Are work restrictions written by a physical therapist legally binding?

Work restrictions written by a physical therapist are legally binding. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with work restrictions. Failure to adhere to these restrictions can result in legal action against the employer. It is important for employers to communicate with employees about their work restrictions and ensure that they are followed to avoid potential legal issues.

Can a physical therapist modify work restrictions as a patient’s condition improves?

Yes, physical therapists can modify work restrictions as a patient’s condition improves. As the patient’s physical abilities improve, the therapist may adjust the restrictions to allow them to perform more tasks or increase the amount of weight they can lift. The goal is to help the patient return to their normal level of activity as safely and quickly as possible.

Do employers have to adhere to work restrictions written by a physical therapist?

Yes, employers are required to adhere to work restrictions written by a physical therapist. These restrictions are legally binding and failure to adhere to them can result in legal action against the employer. Employers should communicate with employees about their work restrictions and ensure that they are followed to avoid potential legal issues.

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