Workplace involvement improves return to work rates among employees with back pain on long-term sick leave: a systematic review of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of interventions

Disabil Rehabil. 2010;32(8):607-21. doi: 10.3109/09638280903186301.


Purpose: Long-term sickness absence among workers is a major problem in industrialised countries. The aim of the review is to determine whether interventions involving the workplace are more effective and cost-effective at helping employees on sick leave return to work than those that do not involve the workplace at all.

Methods: A systematic review of controlled intervention studies and economic evaluations. Sixteen electronic databases and grey literature sources were searched, and reference and citation tracking was performed on included publications. A narrative synthesis was performed.

Results: Ten articles were found reporting nine trials from Europe and Canada, and four articles were found evaluating the cost-effectiveness of interventions. The population in eight trials suffered from back pain and related musculoskeletal conditions. Interventions involving employees, health practitioners and employers working together, to implement work modifications for the absentee, were more consistently effective than other interventions. Early intervention was also found to be effective. The majority of trials were of good or moderate quality. Economic evaluations indicated that interventions with a workplace component are likely to be more cost effective than those without.

Conclusion: Stakeholder participation and work modification are more effective and cost effective at returning to work adults with musculoskeletal conditions than other workplace-linked interventions, including exercise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Back Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Canada
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Ergonomics
  • Europe
  • Humans
  • Occupational Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Sick Leave
  • Workplace*