Multidisciplinary rehabilitation of chronic work-related upper extremity disorders. Long-term effects

J Occup Med. 1993 Apr;35(4):396-403.


The prevalence of work-related upper extremity disorders has significantly increased in the past decade. Persistent pain, loss of function, and associated work disability in patients with work-related upper extremity disorders appears to be affected by multiple factors including physical capabilities in relation to work demands, ergonomic risk factors on the job, and psychological factors related to worker traits, psychological readiness to return to work, and ability to manage symptoms. The complex nature of these disorders suggests the utility of a multidisciplinary program targeted at these factors. The present study is an investigation of the long-term vocational outcome of a multicomponent rehabilitation program that includes physical conditioning, work conditioning, work-related pain and stress management, ergonomic consultation, and vocational counseling/placement. Two groups equivalent on measures of duration of work disability, pain severity, fear of reinjury, psychological distress, perceived work environment, age, and education level were exposed to either the comprehensive work rehabilitation intervention (n = 19) or usual care (n = 15). Return-to-work status was determined at an average of 17 months posttreatment (range, 3 to 35 months) for the treatment group and an average of 18 months postevaluation (range, 5 to 30 months) for the usual care group. Findings indicated that 74% of the treatment group returned to work or were involved in state-supported vocational training in contrast to 40% of the control group (P < .05). For those who returned to work, 91% of the treatment group were working full-time in contrast to 50% of the control group (P < .05). Although the treatment group demonstrated a higher return-to-work rate than controls, the work reentry rate was not as high as similar approaches with work-related low back pain (80% to 88% return-to-work rate). These findings suggest the need to modify treatment components to facilitate an increased return-to-work rate. Areas that may prove useful include a greater emphasis ergonomic modifications at the workplace to reduce the risks of repetitiveness, force, awkward posture, and insufficient work/rest cycles, as well as efforts to modify work style directly in order to reduce the impact of ergonomic stressors on the ability to perform essential job tasks. In combination with traditional work hardening efforts directed at improving strength and flexibility of the upper extremities and work-related pain and stress management training, these ergonomic and work-style modification efforts may contribute to increases in the percentage of work disabled cases who successfully return to competitive work.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Arm Injuries / etiology
  • Arm Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / etiology
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Patient Care Team*
  • Physical Education and Training
  • Sick Role
  • Vocational Guidance
  • Work Capacity Evaluation
  • Workers' Compensation