The effectiveness of ergonomic interventions on return-to-work after low back pain; a prospective two year cohort study in six countries on low back pain patients sicklisted for 3-4 months

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AIMS: To study occurrence and effectiveness of ergonomic interventions on return-to-work applied for workers with low back pain (LBP).

METHODS: A multinational cohort of 1631 workers fully sicklisted 3-4 months due to LBP (ICD-9 codes 721, 722, 724) was recruited from sickness benefit claimants databases in Denmark, Germany, Israel, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United States. Medical, ergonomic, and other interventions, working status, and return-to-work were measured using questionnaires and interviews at three months, one and two years after the start of sickleave. Main outcome measure was time to return-to-work. Cox's proportional hazards model was used to calculate hazard ratios regarding the time to return-to-work, adjusted for prognostic factors.

RESULTS: Ergonomic interventions varied considerably in occurrence between the national cohorts: 23.4% (mean) of the participants reported adaptation of the workplace, ranging from 15.0% to 30.5%. Adaptation of job tasks and adaptation of working hours was applied for 44.8% (range 41.0-59.2%) and 46.0% (range 19.9-62.9%) of the participants, respectively. Adaptation of the workplace was effective on return-to-work rate with an adjusted hazard ratio (HR) of 1.47 (95% CI 1.25 to 1.72; p < 0.0001). Adaptation of job tasks and adaptation of working hours were effective on return-to-work after a period of more than 200 days of sickleave with an adjusted HR of 1.78 (95% CI 1.42 to 2.23; p < 0.0001) and 1.41 (95% CI 1.13 to 1.76; p = 0.002), respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest that ergonomic interventions are effective on return-to-work of workers long term sicklisted due to LBP.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-94
Number of pages6
JournalOccupational and environmental medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2004


  • Absenteeism
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Ergonomics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain/rehabilitation
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Occupational Diseases/rehabilitation
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sick Leave/statistics & numerical data
  • Survival Analysis
  • Work Schedule Tolerance

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