Background: The purpose of this study was to describe the health status and work limitations in injured workers with musculoskeletal disorders at 1 month post-injury, stratified by return-to-work status, and to document their return-to-work trajectories 6 months post-injury.
Methods: A sample of 632 workers with a back or upper extremity musculoskeletal disorder, who filed a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board lost-time claim injury, participated in this prospective study. Participants were assessed at baseline (1 month post-injury) and at 6 months follow-up.
Results: One month post-injury, poor physical health, high levels of depressive symptoms and high work limitations are prevalent in workers, including in those with a sustained first return to work. Workers with a sustained first return to work report a better health status and fewer work limitations than those who experienced a recurrence of work absence or who never returned to work. Six months post-injury, the rate of recurrence of work absence in the trajectories of injured workers who have made at least one return to work attempt is high (38%), including the rate for workers with an initial sustained first return to work (27%).
Conclusions: There are return-to-work status specific health outcomes in injured workers. A sustained first return to work is not equivalent to a complete recovery from musculoskeletal disorders.