Purpose: We conducted a systematic review to critically appraise and synthesize literature on the effectiveness of work disability prevention (WDP) interventions in workers with neck pain, whiplash-associated disorders (WAD), or upper extremity disorders.
Methods: We searched electronic databases from 1990 to 2012. Random pairs of independent reviewers critically appraised eligible studies using the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network criteria. Scientifically admissible studies were summarized and synthesized following best-evidence synthesis methodology.
Results: Of the 6,359 articles retrieved, 16 randomized controlled trials were eligible for critical appraisal and five were admissible. We found that a return-to-work coordination program (including workplace-based work hardening) was superior to clinic-based work hardening for persistent rotator cuff tendinitis. Workplace high-intensity strength training and workplace advice had similar outcomes for neck and shoulder pain. Mensendieck/Cesar postural exercises and strength and fitness exercises had similar outcomes for non-specific work-related upper limb complaints. Adding a brief job stress education program to a workplace ergonomic intervention was not beneficial for persistent upper extremity symptoms. Adding computer-prompted work breaks to ergonomic adjustments and workplace education benefited workers' recovery from recent work-related neck and upper extremity complaints.
Conclusions: At present, no firm conclusions can be drawn regarding the effectiveness of WDP interventions for managing neck pain, WAD, and upper extremity disorders. Our review suggests a return-to-work coordination program is more effective than clinic-based work hardening. Also, adding computer-prompted breaks to ergonomic and workplace interventions benefits workers' recovery. The current quality of evidence does not allow for a definitive evaluation of the effectiveness of ergonomic interventions.