Objective: To evaluate how an intervention program modifies the clinical course of work disability in musculoskeletal diagnoses.
Methods: All patients with temporary work disability related to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in 3 health districts of Madrid, Spain were randomized into standard care (control group) or the intervention group. Intervention consisted of a specific program, run by rheumatologists, following detailed proceedings. Inclusion and followup lasted 12 months each. According to the cause, every temporary work disability episode was classified into 11 syndrome categories. For each we calculated efficacy, as the difference between groups in the number of days on sick leave per temporary work disability episode; relative efficacy, or the percentage of days saved in the intervention group; and time of maximum program effect. Analyses were performed on an intent-to-treat basis. Survival techniques were run and results were expressed as the hazard ratio (HR) in the intervention versus control group.
Results: A total of 13,077 patients were included, generating 16,297 temporary work disability episodes. The most frequent cause was back pain. Temporary work disability episodes were significantly shorter in the intervention group than in the controls in all syndrome categories except knee pain (excluding osteoarthritis). Program relative efficacy varied from 28-72%. The program was highly efficacious in carpal tunnel syndrome (HR 2.09, 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 1.17-3.75), peripheral osteoarthritis (HR 1.58, 95% CI 1.14-2.19), and inflammatory diseases (HR 1.52, 95% CI 1.09-2.12). The maximum effect of the program always took place within the first 2 months.
Conclusion: The implementation of this type of specialist-run, protocol-based early intervention program would be very beneficial in the treatment of patients with work disability related to MSDs, except for those with knee pain (excluding osteoarthritis).