Occupational health

Problems such as neck or back pain, stress or anxiety are the main causes of people being off work sick. This summary explains how physiotherapy can help.

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What is occupational health?   


Physiotherapists work in Occupational Health (OH) services, which help employers and staff to establish safe working practices and manage health issues. Physios seek to prevent as well as treat problems, which can have benefits such as reduced sickness absence and improved staff retention.

Physiotherapy is extremely effective with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as neck and back pain. In one study, 80 per cent of people who had physiotherapy for their MSD were able to carry on working and did not have to go off sick.

How can physiotherapy help with occupational health? 

Do you or someone you care for need treatment? 
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Occupational Health services are all about helping employers and staff deal with health problems at work. Many physiotherapists have specialist expertise in OH services.

Physios can help to prevent and reduce the possibility of sickness and injury in the workplace, as well as help staff return to work through treatment and re-training.

Physios work with employers and staff to educate them on safe working practices and to train them on matters such as lifting, handling and equipment layout.

Perhaps you have become disabled and have reduced mobility, or have developed a health problem.  This may mean you have difficulty with or are unable to carry out your current job. A physio can discuss with you and your employer what duties you are able to do and what adjustments may be required.

Your physio may give you an AHP Advisory Fitness for Work Report. This report provides information on the functional impact of your reported problem. You can give the report to your employer to help explore ways of staying in or returning to work. 

What will happen when I see a physiotherapist?

When you see a physio, they will assess your health issues and give you advice. Everything you tell the physio will be completely confidential.

They may give you a physical treatment. So that your physio can see how your joints and muscles move, they may need you to remove some clothes.  It’s a good idea to dress comfortably and wear suitable underwear.

How can I help myself?

It is important that you report any problems you are having as soon as possible to your manager, HR department or your GP.

Neck pain, back pain and repetitive strain injury (RSI) are in a group known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The proper name for RSI is now work-related upper limb disorders.

MSDs and stress are the two main causes of sickness absence.  The earlier MSDs and stress are treated the better.

You can look after yourself by taking breaks, getting active and keeping a good posture at work. Make sure you have a correct desk layout, know how to use equipment safely and how to carry out tasks, such as heavy lifting, without hurting yourself.

There are also simple exercises you can do to reduce pain.

Top tips to stay healthy at work

  • Take your breaks and get some fresh air if you can
  • Get active and keep active – take a lunchtime walk or exercise class
  • Keep your neck active - don’t wedge the phone between your ear and shoulder
  • Don’t overstretch to perform a task – move closer to the task
  • If a load is too heavy or an awkward shape, ask someone for help 

Guidance and evidence for physiotherapy

Links and further information


The content on this page is provided for general information purposes only and is not meant to replace a physiotherapy or medical consultation. The CSP is not responsible for the content of any external sites, nor should selection be seen as an endorsement of them.

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