Does nonsurgical pain center treatment of chronic pain return patients to work? A review and meta-analysis of the literature

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1994 Mar 15;19(6):643-52. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199403001-00002.


Evidence in the literature relating to return to work as an outcome variable for nonsurgical treatment for chronic pain was examined. Study selection criteria were as follows: a detailed definition of patient work status, delineation of work status pre-treatment and at follow-up, and documentation of the proportion of patients employed at follow-up. Of 171 studies reviewed, 37 fulfilled these selection criteria. Because the data were objective in nature, they were abstracted by the senior author only. For the coded variables of time to follow-up, proportion of patients working pre-treatment and at follow-up and number of patients, descriptive statistics and correlations were calculated. Change in employment status at follow-up was significant (P < .005) for all groups examined. In addition, comparisons for work outcome between treated patients versus patients rejected due to lack of insurance, and between treated patients versus patients who dropped out of treatment were both significant (P < .001). The mean difference in employment at follow-up for treated patients versus those not treated was approximately 50%. The proportion of patients working increased from 20% to 54% post chronic pain nonsurgical treatment. Correlation analyses did not find a significant trend in percent employed with time to follow-up. These results indicate that (1) chronic pain nonsurgical treatment does return patients to work; (2) increased rates of return to work are due to treatment, and (3) benefits of treatment are not temporary.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Employment*
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Pain Management*
  • Treatment Outcome