Previous studies have found illness representations to be associated with the degree to which patients adopt health behaviours. Surprisingly, pain representations, especially those in a work rehabilitation context, have rarely been explored.
Objective: To conduct a thorough investigation of the pain representations held by workers who were on sick leave due to persistent musculoskeletal pain during the process of an intensive work rehabilitation program.
Methods: Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with 16 participants (male, female), three times during the program and one month after discharge. Data analysis was based on a narrative approach.
Results: Throughout the process, pain representation was an indicator of the type of action the participants were ready to take to control the immediate or possible consequences of their pain. Using the context of a work rehabilitation trajectory we identified the differential impact of reconstruction or status quo in pain representations that eventually led to a return to work, or not.
Discussion: This study highlights the importance of identifying and acknowledging workers' pain representations in facilitating their return to work.