A reader asks:

I had a lumbar fusion5 months ago the doctor released me back to work with no restrictions but I don’t think I am ready . What do I do?

This is a great question.  Nobody knows your body better than you do.  At the same time though, under Illinois law, temporary total disability benefits are only owed if you have a doctor stating that you can not do your job or that you need work restrictions that your employer can’t accommodate.
To me, the best way to solve a problem like this is to establish a good relationship with your doctor at the get go.  Some doctors will release patients as soon as they can because the patient just bugs them.  So a nice thank you card or a box of candy can go a long way (my friend created www.crafthousecocktails.com if you are looking for a great gift that isn’t too expensive).  Point is that having a great relationship with your doc can go a long way.
Beyond that, I’d be sure to express your concerns to the physician.  If they are releasing you to full duty work then perhaps you can do a trial run of a few weeks on light duty.  Maybe you can do work hardening which is a rehabilative process designed to condition you to get back to work.  It’s almost like a “spring training” of sorts.
You can also ask him/her about what you should do if you feel pain while working and what the next steps would be.
What you don’t want to do is act like someone that thinks workers’ compensation is a free vacation and that you’ll never be able to get back to your old duties.  Let them know that you want to work, but are scared (assuming that’s the truth).  If you act like you’ll never get back on the job and then the insurance company catches you doing any meaningful activity, you are dead in the water and will hurt your case.
For my clients who have done all of this, I just tell them the truth: they have to try working.  Sometimes it goes way better than they expect.  Other times they get re-injured within five minutes.  But while you know your body better than anyone else, your surgeon knows these injuries better than you do.  So you have to trust their judgment or be willing to sit at home and not be paid.
This is the kind of news that often sucks to deliver, but we don’t ever tell people what they want to hear.  We tell the truth and the reality is that if your doctor isn’t in your corner then there isn’t much that can be done for you.

By Michael Helfand