August 2000 Bulletin

Treating workers same as treating athletes

An injured worker should be treated like an injured athlete–identify the problem, treat the injury, modify the activity and get the individual back to work.

That’s the prescription of J. Mark Melhorn, MD, who gives a parallel example of how Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers basketball star was treated when he suffered a sprained ankle in the second game of the National Basketball Association championship series. "They immediately started therapy and rehabilitation and gave his injury some rest." Bryant went back to play in the fourth game and helped the Lakers win the game and eventually, the championship.

Sports medicine has a higher public profile than occupational orthopaedics, but "we’re doing the same thing," says Dr. Melhorn, who is chairman of the AAOS continuing medical education course, "Occupational Orthopaedics and Workers’ Compensation: A Multidisciplinary Perspective." The course is scheduled for Nov. 10-12 in Baltimore, Md.

Occupational orthopaedics may not be well-known to the individual unless he or she is one of the millions who suffer work-related injuries each year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 1996 there were 1.9 million injuries and illnesses in private industry that required recuperation away from work. The impact on the economy was $418 billion in direct costs and $837 billion in indirect costs.

"By virtual of their training, orthopaedic surgeons are the best physicians to treat work-related injuries," says Dr. Melhorn.

"Six tasks are required of the occupational orthopaedist to improve the treatment outcomes for work-related injuries. They are proper diagnosis, identification of contributing factors, appropriate medical treatment, communication with legal issues of workers’ compensation, prevention programs for workplace injuries and education for patient and society."

How to combine the knowledge of the patient’s musculoskeletal system with the science of epidemiology, biomechanics and ergonomics is the primary feature of Dr. Melhorn’s November CME course on occupational orthopaedics and workers’ compensation. For more information or to register, call the Academy’s customer service department at (800) 626-6726.

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