From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

New Study Could Help Improve Back-to-Work Programs for Musculoskeletal Disorder Patients

Could improving the way the afflicted worker and his or her clinician communicate during the rehabilitation process prevent long-term disability from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)? Researchers in Quebec set out to explore that question recently, and their findings could help improve the rehabilitative process and prognosis for MSD patients.

Every year a large number of people are absent from work due to MSDs, and a small percentage will be unable to continue working. As long-term disability from MSDs is a disproportionately costly proposition, studies that open a window on contributing factors can count on serious consideration.

This study was funded by the Quebec workplace safety research organization, Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRRST), which is funded largely by employers’ contributions.

The researchers interviewed several MSD patients and their clinicians at four stages during the return-to-work program at a Quebec hospital. Each case in this study consisted of a clinician-worker pair. All the workers were on prolonged disability, and the occupations of the workers were mixed. 

Of the five participating clinicians, one had training in both ergonomics and occupational therapy. Three others had training in occupational therapy, and one other had kinesiology training.

At the end of the program, which lasted an average 10.45 weeks and at the one-month follow-up, seven workers were back at work full-time, and five were unable to return to work because of their disability.

According to the researchers, many factors play a part in the development and long-term duration of work disability. Some relate to the person, workplace, or compensation policies, while others pertain to the healthcare and insurance systems.

Key factors in the prognosis were found to be the patient’s understanding of his or her condition and ability to impart all relevant factors to their clinician, the clinician’s understanding of the patient’s representation, and also joint decision-making on the strategies and objectives of the back-to-work program.

“It is important that the objective be agreed to,” the researchers wrote, “or at the very least, that the strategy put forward make sense in the worker’s mind.”

They suggest that a future step for researchers is exploring the process and mechanisms involved in the clinician-worker dialogue and decision making.

Source: Occupational Rehabilitation—Studies and Research Project R-616 (IRRST)