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Screening Can Spot Those Most at Risk for Missed Work

Last Updated: May 06, 2009.

A brief screening questionnaire can identify workers with chronic low back pain who are most at risk for long periods of missed work, according to a study published in the May issue of The Spine Journal.

WEDNESDAY, May 6 (HealthDay News) -- A brief screening questionnaire can identify workers with chronic low back pain who are most at risk for long periods of missed work, according to a study published in the May issue of The Spine Journal.

M. Du Bois, M.D., of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, and colleagues recruited in their study 390 injured workers who had applied for benefits in 2003 and 2004. The group members all underwent a physical examination, completed a battery of 12 questionnaires, and were followed up for six months. At endpoint, 346 of the group for whom complete data was available were included in the analysis.

The researchers note that at three months from the start of their sick leave, 47 percent of the group had not returned to work. Analyzing questionnaire and demographic data, the leading predictive risk factors for failure to return to work were blue collar worker (odds ratio, 2.18), Oswestry disability index (odds ratio for each point increase, 1.04), fear of avoidance severity score (odds ratio for each point increase, 1.05), and pain behavior (odds ratio for each point increase, 1.72). The researchers found five questions that identified 80 percent of the patients who were unable to resume work after three months.

"The early and rapid identification of low back pain patients at high risk for chronic disability by a short screening tool can be very helpful in the medical assessment of work disability. Because all factors are potentially modifiable, they offer promising targets for rehabilitation and return-to-work guidance," the authors conclude.

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