The objective of the study was to provide an inventory of predictive instruments and their constituting parameters associated with return to work in patients with subacute (2-10 weeks pain duration) and chronic (10-24 weeks pain duration) non-specific low back pain (NSLBP). Data sources included systematic review in Medline, Embase, Cinahl, Central, PEDro, Psyndex, PsychInfo/PsycLit, and Sociofile up to September 2008, in reference lists of systematic reviews on risk factors, and of included studies. For the systematic review, two reviewers independently assessed study eligibility and quality, and extracted data. Disagreements were resolved by consensus. Risk factors were inventorised and grouped into a somatic and psychosocial domain. 23 studies reporting on subacute and 16 studies reporting on chronic patients were included. The studies on subacute patients reported on a total of 56 biomedical factors out of which 35 (63%) were modifiable and 61 psychosocial factors out of which 51 (84%) were modifiable. The corresponding values in studies on chronic patients were 44 biomedical [27 (62%) modifiable] and 61 [40 (66%) modifiable] respectively. Our data suggest that the interdisciplinary approach in patients at risk to develop persistent NSLBP is justified in both, the subacute and chronic disease stages. Psychosocial interventions might be more effective in subacute stages since a higher proportion of modifiable risk factors were identified in that group.