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Absence Resulting From Low Back Trouble Can Be Reduced by Psychosocial Intervention at the Work Place

Symonds, Tara L. BSc; Burton, A. Kim PhD; Tillotson, K. Malcolm CStat; Main, Chris J. PhD

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Abstract

Study Design: A 1-year prospective study in industry, assessing effects of an educational pamphlet on various psychosocial parameters and absenteeism resulting from low back trouble.

Objectives: To determine the value of distributing an educational psychosocial pamphlet to reduce absenteeism resulting from back trouble. The pamphlet was designed to alter avoidance behaviors by encouraging a positive, active approach.

Summary of Background Data: Attempts to control back-pain disability have failed. Fear of pain and activity seemingly leads to avoidance behaviors that contribute to chronicity and work loss. Avoidance behaviors are mediated by attitudes and beliefs; such attitudes and beliefs are a reasonable target for educational interventions designed to change "inappropriate" behaviors (e.g., extended absenteeism). Health education pamphlets are advocated widely but tested rarely.

Methods: Three factories participated in the study. Psychosocial data were collected by questionnaires; absence data were extracted from company records. A psychosocial pamphlet was distributed in one factory; the control subjects received either a nonspecific pamphlet or no intervention. The pamphlet emphasized a positive approach to low back trouble (reduction of negative beliefs and attitudes).

Results: In the company whose employees received pamphlets, a significant reduction occurred for the number of spells with extended absence and the number of days of absence (70% and 60%, respectively) compared with extrapolated values. A concomitant positive shift in beliefs concerning the locus of pain control and the inevitable consequences of low back trouble was found.

Conclusions: A simple industrial intervention using a psychosocial pamphlet, which was designed to reduce avoidance behaviors by fostering positive beliefs and attitudes, successfully reduced extended absence resulting from low back trouble.

(C) Lippincott-Raven Publishers.

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