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Spine J. 2013 Dec;13(12):1849-57. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2013.07.433. Epub 2013 Sep 21.

Prognostic factors for return to work in patients with sciatica.

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Department of Rheumatology, Østfold Hospital Trust, Postboks 16, 1603 Fredrikstad, Norway. Electronic address:



Little is known about the prognostic factors for work-related outcomes of sciatica caused by disc herniation.


To identify the prognostic factors for return to work (RTW) during a 2-year follow-up among sciatica patients referred to secondary care.


Multicenter prospective cohort study including 466 patients. Administrative data from the National Sickness Benefit Register were accessed for 227 patients.


Two samples were used. Sample A comprised patients who at the time of inclusion in the cohort reported being on partial sick leave or complete sick leave or were undergoing rehabilitation because of back pain/sciatica. Sample B comprised patients who, according to the sickness benefit register, at the time of inclusion received sickness benefits or rehabilitation allowances because of back pain/sciatica.


In Sample A, the outcome was self-reported return to full-time work at the 2-year follow-up. In Sample B, the outcome was time to first sustained RTW, defined as the first period of more than 60 days without receiving benefits from the register.


Significant baseline predictors of self-reported RTW at 2 years (Analysis A) were identified by multivariate logistic regression. Significant predictors of time to sustained RTW (Analysis B) were identified by multivariate Cox proportional hazard modeling. Both analyses included adjustment for age and sex. To assess the effect of surgery on the probability of RTW, analyses similar to A and B were performed, including the variable surgery (yes/no).


One-fourth of the patients were still out of work at the 2-year follow-up. In Sample A (n=237), younger age, better general health, lower baseline sciatica bothersomeness, less fear-avoidance work, and a negative straight-leg-raising test result were significantly associated with a higher probability of RTW at the 2-year follow-up. Surgery was not significantly associated with the outcome. In Sample B (n=125), history of sciatica, duration of the current sciatica episode more than 3 months, greater sciatica bothersomeness, fear-avoidance work, and back pain were significantly associated with a longer time to sustained RTW. Surgery was significantly negatively associated with time to sustained RTW both in univariate (hazard ratio [HR] 0.60; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.39, 0.93; p=.02) and in multivariate (HR 0.49; 95% CI 0.31, 0.79; p=.003) analyses.


The baseline factors associated with RTW identified in multivariate analysis were age, general health, history of sciatica, duration of the current episode, baseline sciatica bothersomeness, fear-avoidance work, back pain, and the straight-leg-raising test result. Surgical treatment was associated with slower RTW, but surgical patients were more severely affected than patients treated without surgery; so, this finding should be interpreted with caution.


Fear-avoidance beliefs; Prognosis; Return to work; Sciatica; Sickness absence

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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