Determinants of "return to work in good health" among workers with back pain who consult in primary care settings: a 2-year prospective study

Eur Spine J. 2007 May;16(5):641-55. doi: 10.1007/s00586-006-0180-2. Epub 2006 Jul 26.


Many factors have been linked to return to work after a back pain episode, but our understanding of this phenomenon is limited and cross-sectional dichotomous indices of return to work are not valid measures of this construct. To describe the course of "return to work in good health" (RWGH--a composite index of back pain outcome) among workers who consulted in primary care settings for back pain and identify its determinants, a 2-year prospective study was conducted. Subjects (n = 1,007, 68.4%) were workers who consulted in primary care settings of the Quebec City area for a nonspecific back pain. They completed five telephone interviews over 2 years (follow-up = 86%). Analyses linking baseline variables with 2-year outcome were conducted with polytomous logistic regression. The proportion of "success" in RWGH increased from 18% at 6 weeks to 57% at 2 years. In women, persistent pain, pain radiating to extremities, increasing job seniority, not having a unionized job, feeling that the physician did listen carefully and increasing fear-avoidance beliefs towards work and activity were determinants of "failure" in RWGH. In men, decreasing age, cigarette smoking, poor self-reported health status, pain in the thoracic area, previous back surgeries, a non-compensated injury, high pain levels, belief that job is below qualifications, likelihood of losing job, job status, satisfaction with health services and fear-avoidance beliefs towards work were all significant. RWGH among workers with back pain receives multiple influences, especially among men. In both genders, however, fear-avoidance beliefs about work are associated with failure and high self-efficacy is associated with success.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Back Pain / psychology*
  • Back Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Recovery of Function
  • Risk Factors
  • Sick Leave
  • Sick Role