Interventions for Disability Management
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BACKGROUND: With an increasing prevalence of low back pain, management can include modified work, work-conditioning, or work-hardening programs. Modified work programs, or employer's worksite interventions or clinic-based programs under medical supervision, provide a gradual increase of workload. Work-conditioning programs, or unimodal physical conditioning and function activities, promote return to work. Work-hardening programs, or graded work simulations and psychological interventions, are used as part of an interdisciplinary program addressing physical and functional needs. OBJECTIVE: The objective of the review was to determine how effective modified work programs, work hardening, and work conditioning are in the management of chronic pain disability. METHODOLOGY: The literature search identified two systematic literature reviews to provide the evidence about these interventions for disability management. RESULTS: Studies of work conditioning showed methodological variability, heterogeneous subjects, variable definitions of modified work, and limited outcome measures. Using return-to-work outcomes, 8 of the 11 studies of adequate methodological quality reported positive effects of modified work programs, mostly light duty. For work conditioning and work hardening, studies showed methodological variability combined with heterogeneous subjects, including varying times out of work and varying work ethics from different countries. Most study results were uncertain, though results of three of the four medium-quality studies were positive. CONCLUSIONS: Modified work programs may improve return-to-work rates of workers with work-related injuries for 6 months or longer (level 2). There is inadequate evidence (level 4a) to determine what particular aspects of modified work programs are helpful. Work conditioning and work hardening may or may not improve the return to work of more chronically disabled workers (level 4b).
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