Study design: A prospective cohort of approximately 1600 injured workers off work because of soft-tissue musculoskeletal problems was followed for 1 year through a series of structured telephone interviews.
Objective: To determine the effectiveness of a Workers' Compensation Board-sponsored early, active, exercise and education program based in the community in comparison to "usual" care.
Summary of background data: The program established in 1990 was available in more than 100 clinics. Results from an earlier pilot study indicated lower overall claims costs for workers attending the program compared with non-attenders.
Methods: Subjects were recruited at the time of Workers' Compensation Board claim registration. Routinely collected data and self-reported responses to demographic, quality-of-life, functional status, pain, recovery expectations, and workplace response to injury questions were used to determine selection factors for community clinic attendance. Economic and non-economic outcomes were compared for clinic attenders and non-attenders.
Results: For the 885 male and female new back problem cases in the study, overall clinic attenders were not systematically different from non-attenders at baseline. Analysis of duration of benefits showed no significant difference between attenders and non-attenders, although health care costs for clinic attenders were significantly higher. Functional status, health-related quality-of-life, and pain measures all improved significantly throughout time for both groups, bit there were no statistically significant differences in rate of improvement.
Conclusion: There was no advantage from the program compared with usual care on the outcomes measured-a finding consistent with recent studies that examined the longer-term effectiveness of other interventions in the first few weeks of back pain symptoms.