A recent study on lower back pain and return to work was conducted by a Dutch research team, and the findings were unsurprising to those of us who espouse the idea of an active rather than a passive recovery whenever possible. In the study, workers with nonspecific low back pain who engaged in a graded activity program returned to regular activities - including work - sooner than those who got "normal care." On average, the active recovery path cut one month off a three-month recovery period, and follow-up studies showed no difference in the reinjury rate.
This study bolsters the case for employers to have a safe, progressive return to work program that eases injured workers back to their normal jobs. The study author comments:
"Athletes and other professionals are highly motivated, have high self-esteem, are not depressed, and have a strong motivation to keep doing what they always do," he suggests. "Can we imbue the injured worker with some of the ideals and motivation of the injured athlete?" Based on the van Mechelen team's study, the answer appears to be "yes." Their program changes how disabled workers see -- and cope with -- their lower back pain."
Dr. Jennifer Christian is an occupational physician who has worked in settings ranging from an insurer's office to right on the shop floor. She often uses "the grocery store test" as a barometer of fitness for work. It goes something like this: If you worked in your family grocery store, would you be back at work, or would the injury or illness preclude that? Of course, it goes without saying that any worker's return to work after an injury of illness must be planned carefully within physician restrictions.
The hidden key in both this study and the grocery store test may well center on that all-important word, motivation. If you are an employer, ask yourself this: would your employees be motivated to come back to your workplace?
By the way, if you ever have the chance to hear Dr. Christian speak at a national meeting or forum, do be sure to sign up...she is quite a forward thinker on workers compensation and disabilty issues.
And thanks to Judge Robert Vonada and his always excellent PAWC weblog for pointing us to this study.