Current conceptions of chronic pain clearly suggest that proper care at the acute stage should prevent the development of chronic problems. Patients (198) seeking help for acute musculoskeletal pain (MSP), e.g., back and neck pain participated in two studies of the effects of an Early Active intervention which underscored 'well' behavior and function compared to a Treatment as usual control group. The quantity of the Early Active treatment was a median of 1 doctor's appointment and 3 meetings with a physical therapist. Study I concerned patients with a prior history of sick-listing for MSP, while study II involved patients with no prior history of MSP. Treatment satisfaction, pain experience, activities and sickness absenteeism were assessed before, after and at a 12-month follow-up. In study I (patients with a history of MSP), the results showed significant improvements for both groups, but virtually no differences between the groups. Similarly, in study II (no history of MSP) both groups demonstrated significant improvements, e.g., for pain intensity and activity levels. However, the Early Active treatment resulted in significantly less sick-listing relative to the control group. Moreover, the risk of developing chronic (> 200 sick days) pain was 8 times lower for the Early Activation group. This investigation shows that relatively simple changes in treatment result in reduced sickness absenteeism for 'first-time' sufferers only. Consequently, the content and timing of treatment for pain appear to be crucial. Properly administered early intervention may therefore decrease sick leave and prevent chronic problems, thus saving considerable resources.