Prediction of sickness absence in patients with chronic low back pain: a systematic review

J Occup Rehabil. 2006 Sep;16(3):439-67. doi: 10.1007/s10926-006-9021-8.


Objectives: To provide evidence of predictors for sickness absence in patients with non-specific chronic low back pain (CLBP), distinguishing predictors aimed at the decision to report sick (absence threshold) and decision to return to work (return to work threshold).

Methods: Medical and psychological databases were searched, as well as citations from relevant reviews. In- and exclusion criteria were applied. Two reviewers assessed the methodological quality of the papers independently.

Results: Many different predictors were studied, and few factors were studied more than once. Consistent evidence was found for own expectations of recovery only as predictor for the decision to return to work. Patients with higher expectations had less sickness absence at the moment of follow-up measurement. As expected, different predictors were found aiming at the absence threshold or the return to work threshold. Furthermore, predictors varied also with the measurement instruments used, timing of follow-up measurements, and definition of outcomes. Until now, too few studies are available to overcome several potential sources of heterogeneity.

Conclusions: No core set of predictors exists for sickness absence in general. The characteristics of the study including the decision to report sick or to return to work determined the influence of several predictors on sickness absence in patients with CLBP. Further research and use of a core set of measurements and uniform definitions are needed to predict sickness absence and return to work in patients with CLBP.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism*
  • Databases, Bibliographic
  • Employment / trends*
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / epidemiology*
  • Low Back Pain / rehabilitation
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / rehabilitation
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / rehabilitation
  • Prognosis
  • Sick Leave / statistics & numerical data*