Indeed your workers comp doctor can send you back to work despite you still having pain. Unless the MD believes that there is more that can be done to further improve your condition, you may have reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI).
You will receive a letter offering you the chance to select a Panel QME (qualified medical evaluators) for a neutral evaluation. You can select one with or without the assistance of an Attorney, but should avail yourself of the examination if you disagree with your MD findings/opinion.
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Yes, your doctor has the authority to send you back to work full duty, but you do have the legal ability to fight back. People are sent back to work full duty in extreme pain every day; your brilliant elected officials decided that's okay with them.
Fight back: We need to get you a 'competing' opinion that shows that you shouldn't be released yet, that you could improve with additional rest or additional cortisone injections or acupuncture or other pain management. You need a panel QME to give an unbiased opinion of your work capability.
An attorney can pick your QME panel for you. There is a form you can mail in to request a QME review. You'll get a list of 3 doctors and you will want to choose those specializing in pain management, and make certain a certified specialist in workers comp chooses the right doctor from the list.
Once you make the appointment, the insurer is supposed to pay for everything. The insurer is actually supposed to pay you one day of Temporary Disability for missing work to see the doctor. The insurer is supposed to send all your records to the QME doctor.
30 days after the appointment you get a report, and you hope it says you are NOT Permanent & Stationary and more treatment or more rest will likely improve your condition.
Then after this report issues: you get a Certified Specialist Attorney in Comp near your place of residence in California to fight for the insurer to provide all the treatment suggested in the QME Report.
I'll try to attach the Panel Qualified Medical Evaluation Form and the link to the Workers' Comp Certified Specialist attorneys near you (DO NOT hire the TV 'fight for you' guys or you'll be sent to a chiropractor whose report is admissible).
I agree with Mr. Corson and Ms. Wallace.
You also have the right to change treating doctors. It may have to be a doctor within the medical provider network of the insurance company but an experienced w.c. attorney should be able to help you find a good doctor off of the list.
Find a good workers' comp attorney in the South Bay here at www.avvo.com or at www.caaa.org. CAAA is the association for attorneys here in California who represent injured workers. Or you can call me for a referral.