What concerns workers with low back pain? Findings of a qualitative study of patients referred for rehabilitation

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Introduction: Health and workplace strategies to address work loss and sickness absence due to low back pain are urgently required. A better understanding of the experiences of those struggling to stay at work with back pain may help clinicians and employers with their treatment and management approaches. Methods: A qualitative approach using thematic analysis was used. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of 25 low back pain patients who had been referred for multidisciplinary back pain rehabilitation. All were in employment and concerned about their ability to work due to low back pain. Initial codes were identified and refined through constant comparison of the transcribed interview scripts as data collection proceeded. Themes were finally identified and analysed by repeated study of the scripts and discussion with the research team. Findings Five main themes were identified: justifying back pain at work; concern about future ability to retain work; coping with flare-ups; reluctance to use medication; concern about sickness records. Conclusions: In this study, workers with low back pain remained uncertain of how best to manage their condition in the workplace despite previous healthcare interventions and they were also concerned about the impact back pain might have on their job security and future work capacity. They were concerned about how back pain was viewed by their employers and co-workers and felt the need to justify their condition with a medical diagnosis and evidence. Clinicians and employers may need to address these issues in order to enable people to continue to work more confidently with back pain.




Coole, C., Drummond, A., Watson, P. J., & Radford, K. (2010). What concerns workers with low back pain? Findings of a qualitative study of patients referred for rehabilitation. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 20(4), 472–480. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10926-010-9237-5

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