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Helping workers with back pain get back to work

August 16, 2012
KEYWORDS disability / pain / workers
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back painMedical advice on staying active can have a positive affect on workers who are on medical leave due to  lower back pain, a new study finds.

In fact, recovery from nonspecific lower back pain can be delayed if people avoid activity, according to researchers Dr. Marc Du Bois and Peter Donceel, at KU Leuven, a university in Belgium.

Their study, published in Spine, involved more than 500 workers -- mostly blue-collar -- on sick leave because of low back pain. Workers who had symptoms of a serious back problem were not included.

Half of the workers were told their pain would likely resolve over time and that they should remain active and continue with their normal daily routine. The remaining participants did not receive this information and advice and were only given a standard disability evaluation.

Workers who were educated about back pain and reassured that they would get better were more likely to return to work. After one year, the study showed, only 4 percent of these workers had not done so. In comparison, 8 percent of those who did not receive the counseling on back pain remained on leave.

The researchers found that the 38 percent of those who were given the advice on back pain had repeated episodes of medical leave, compared with 60 percent of those who did not receive this advice.

"Combined counseling and disability evaluation by a medical advisor results in a higher return to work rate due to a lower sick leave recurrence as compared to disability evaluation alone," the study's authors wrote.

They concluded that including advice on lower back pain in disability evaluations can help prevent it from becoming a chronic and disabling condition.

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