Prevention of work disability is a primary goal within treatment of spinal disorders. Work-related outcome measures therefore are essential indices within evidence-based medicine. So far many measures suffer, however, from standardized measurement, standardized terminology, and a lack of theoretical background. This review addresses traditional indicators like work status and sickness absence, and discusses more theory-bound concepts, i.e. work ability, occupational risk factors for recurrence of symptoms and re-injury, work-related attitudes that may become obstacles to recovery, and individual reactions to occupational stressors that increase the risk of maintenance and recurrence of symptoms. The review includes methodological and theoretical considerations and recommendations for the use of work-related outcome measures in future outcome research.