Advising people with back pain to take time off work: A survey examining the role of private musculoskeletal practitioners in the UK

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Abstract

Summary

Among private musculoskeletal practitioners in the UK, advising a break from work for patients with low back pain is common.

Research has demonstrated that health care practitioners’ adherence to guidelines for managing low back pain (LBP) remain suboptimal in recommending work absence, but specific beliefs about their role in maintaining patients at work have not been adequately researched. We examined private musculoskeletal practitioners’ (chiropractors, osteopaths, and physiotherapists) beliefs and reported clinical behaviours in reference to patients’ work. A cross-sectional postal questionnaire of 900 musculoskeletal practitioners included the Attitudes to Back pain in musculoskeletal practitioners questionnaires, reported frequency of four work-related behaviours, and a new measure of practitioners’ work-related beliefs. Data from 337 respondents (37%) were analysed. Eighty percent of respondents reported recommending work absence to patients with LBP sometimes, and 14% recommended a work absence often or always. Seventy percent of practitioners never visit the patient’s workplace. Most practitioners report that they prescribe exercises that can be carried out at work. Physiotherapists visited the workplace more frequently and gave less sick leave certification than either of the other groups. They also regarded work as more beneficial and less of a threat to exacerbate patients’ LBP. There were small but significant correlations between work-related beliefs and reported behaviours. Our study confirms that, in contrast to current guidelines, many practitioners believe that LBP necessitates work absence. Overall, practitioners perceived their role in returning patients to work as limited, and believed that direct contact with employers was beyond their remit. In the UK, physiotherapists appear to be better placed to liaise with work in terms of both their beliefs and activities.

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