Exercise and mental health in the workers compensation scheme

Workplace injuries can take a bigger toll on an individual than just the physical impact of that injury. Individuals recovering from a workplace injury are often at home and feel isolated like they are on suspension from work. Individuals can often express feelings of anger at themselves for getting injured, often times focusing this anger on the workplace when they are not feeling supported. They can feel a loss of purpose and immense boredom and be largely impacted by the feeling of not being able to contribute to their normal family life. They can also be impacted by the lack of the ability to conduct things they were able to do before an injury, such as walking with the dog or family activities, even simple gardening chores. A workplace injury can also be traumatic, leaving psychological effects as well as a lack of confidence in one’s physical ability after injury.

Although many claims may be dealt with appropriately, individuals are supported by the workplace, and by their family, they can still manifest an intrinsic pressure to recover faster which can impact their mental health. Individuals who desire a routine can be largely incapacitated by the lack of role or meaning or the structureless environment of being off work for an extended period of time. We have had many clients come to us heavily impacted by many of these factors, and unfortunately, many of the individuals have been impacted for prolonged periods of time prior to our engagement.

When we talk to workers, employers and physicians, we are often asked what it is exactly that we do? Well, there is the obvious side of what we do as a clinician in assisting a worker return to their previous job role; reduce pain, increase mobility, increase the individual’s strength and ability to undertake workplace goals. The subject that often surprises many specialists and general practitioners is that we help to improve the mental health of injured workers, and we are often asked to see individuals for mental health issues without, or long before an injury is able to be treated by traditional exercise methods.

Our answer to this is simple, it is well known in the health care industry that exercise can positively affect an individual’s mental health. The mechanism of exercise has been shown to release endorphins natural cannabis-like brain chemicals (endogenous cannabinoids) and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being. Exercise also leads to an increase in the availability of brain neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine) that are diminished with depression. But the large benefit that we discuss are the factors that were discussed at the beginning of this article. By participating in an exercise programme, individuals are engaged in purposeful activities, a routine is set, and they can work towards goals they have established. Individuals that engage at these early stages are guided to preform exercise within the bounds of their medical restrictions and tend to have better outcomes.

By being able to keep the rest of their body in condition individuals are poised to undertake conditioning of the affected area, as soon as a medical clearance is obtained. Taking advantage of the effects of the cross-body phenomenon, by working an unaffected limb, the affected limb may lose less neural stimulation to its muscle fibres or regain/maintain the neural pathways needed to establish strength gains, once clearance is obtained. It has been my experience that individuals that commence an early psychological intervention and engage in regular exercise have improved outcomes and shorter treatment cycles.

Exercise physiologists are poised to assist individuals afflicted by mental health conditions, with their depth of knowledge around these conditions and exercise giving them the ability to tailor and manage a programme to the individual. Absolute Balance has clinicians that specialise in mental health inside and out of the workers compensation scheme. For more information visit Absolutebalance.com.au or email info@absolutebalance.com.au.


Jordan M Woods

Exercise Physiologist

(B.Sc. Exercise, Sport Science, and Rehabilitation, GradDipSc. Exercise Physiology Rehabilitation)




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How to stop a physical injury becoming a secondary psychological claim. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/professional/articles/how-to-stop-a-physical-injury-becoming-a-secondary-psychological-claim