Topics and trends in research on non-clinical interventions aimed at preventing prolonged work disability in workers compensated for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs): a systematic, comprehensive literature review

Disabil Rehabil. 2014;36(22):1841-56. doi: 10.3109/09638288.2014.882418. Epub 2014 Jan 28.


Purpose: This study sought to provide an overview of the main topics and trends in contemporary research on successful non-clinical interventions for preventing prolonged work disability in workers compensated for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs).

Methods: A systematic electronic search (English and French) was performed in ten scientific databases using keywords and descriptors. After screening the identified titles and abstracts using specific sets of criteria, categorical and thematic analyses were performed on the retained articles.

Results: Five main topics appear to dominate the research: (1) risk factors and determinants; (2) effectiveness of interventions (programmes, specific components, strategies and policies); (3) viewpoints, experiences and perceptions of specific actors involved in the intervention process; (4) compensation issues; and (5) measurement issues. A currently widespread trend is early screening to identify risks factors for appropriate intervention and multidisciplinary, multimodal approaches. Morover, workplace-related psychosocial and ergonomic factors are considered vital to the success and sustainability of return-to-work (RTW) interventions. Finally, involving workplace actors, and more specifically, affected workers, in the RTW process appears to be a powerful force in improving the chances of moving workers away from disabled status.

Conclusions: The findings of this literature review provide with information about the main topics and trends in research on rehabilitation interventions, revealing some successful modalities of intervention aimed at preventing prolonged work disability.

Implications for rehabilitation: Successful intervention for preventing prolonged work disability in workers compensated for WRMSDs address workplace issues: physical and psychosocial demands at work, ability of the workers to fill these demands, work organization and support of the worker, and worker' beliefs and attitudes related to work. Successful intervention promotes collaboration, coordination between all actors and stakeholders involved in the process of rehabilitation. Strategies able to mobilize the employees, employers, insurers and health care providers are still needed to be implemented.

Keywords: Interventions; musculoskeletal disorders; work disability.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism*
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / prevention & control
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Occupational Health*
  • Organizational Policy
  • Return to Work*
  • Risk Factors
  • Workers' Compensation*
  • Workplace