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Returning to Work After Back Pain

Is it possible to predict who will return to work (RTW) after an episode of low back pain (LBP)? Are there specific factors in patients who do RTW that can help show who those patients are? Researchers at the Netherlands Expert Centre for Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders study these topics and questions.

Other studies have shown that two-thirds of back pain sufferers still have pain one year later. Most patients are back to work but still have pain. Pain level and loss of function are linked with time off from work. The researchers at the Expert Centre wanted to know if the opposite is true. Does RTW help patients recover even more?

Information was collected from LBP patients before treatment and later after three months and six months. Questions were asked about age, gender, level of education, body mass index, and fear of movement. Type of LBP and information about work hours and type of work were also included. Improvement in pain level, function, and quality of life were the main outcome measures.

The authors report strong recovery in the first three months. Improvement continued at a slower rate between three and six months. RTW at three months also had a positive effect on all three outcome measures. A quicker recovery was seen in younger patients, males, and patients engaged in sports activity.

Most patients RTW before fully recovered. This study showed that RTW without complete recovery is not more harmful than staying on sick leave. The study did not answer the question whether patients RTW when they feel better or if they feel better after they RTW.

Elske Faber, MSc, et al. Determinants for Improvement in Different Back Pain Measures and Their Influence on the Duration of Sickness Absence. In Spine. June 1, 2006. Vol. 31. No. 13. Pp. 1477-1483.


*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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