Prognostic factors for workers' time away from work due to acute low-back pain: a systematic review update

Reasons for the study

What factors affect how long it will take workers to return to work following an episode of acute low-back pain (LBP)? This systematic review from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) aimed to find out. The goal of this review was to assess the evidence on factors that predict the length of absence among workers who are at the beginning of a sick leave related to low-back pain. The review looked at factors related to the injury, the job and the psychosocial work environment. This systematic review updated a previous review published in 2005.


This systematic review, completed in 2016, found strong evidence for the following factors affecting return to work among those with acute low-back pain: workers' recovery expectations; interactions with health-care providers (e.g. type of provider); workers' self-reported pain and functional limitations; presence of radiating pain; and work-related factors, including physical demands, job satisfaction and the offer of modified work.

Related scientific publications

Steenstra I, Irvin E, Heymans M, Mahood Q, Hogg-Johnson S. Systematic review of prognostic factors for workers' time away from work due to acute low-back pain: an update. Institute for Work & Health; 2011.

Related research summaries

Factors affecting RTW following acute low-back pain. Sharing Best Evidence: Institute for Work & Health, May 2012.

Project status

Completed 2011

Research team

Ivan Steenstra, Institute for Work & Health (PI)
Emma Irvin, Institute for Work & Health
Quenby Mahood, Institute for Work & Health
Sheilah Hogg-Johnson, Institute for Work & Health
Martijn W. Heymans, VU University (Amsterdam)

Funded by

Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba's Workplace Research and Innovation Program