I'm a manager at a meat packing plant. We try to keep people fully employed at all times. I notice that some worker who hurt their backs seem to get better right away. If they're not back on the job in the first month, they're not as likely to return. Is there anything to this?
More and more studies are pointing to emotional stress and dissatisfaction with the work place as risk factors for chronic low back pain and disability.
According to a new study from Norway, fear-avoidance beliefs (FAB) may be a key factor as well. FAB describes people who are afraid to move normally for fear that their pain will increase. Or they're afraid they will reinjure themselves. Scientists are looking for ways to test FAB at work and compare it to FAB during physical activity.
Some experts suggest that FAB is a kind of back pain-related anxiety. Emotional distress may include more than fear of back pain -- it could include general anxiety, depression, and stress-induced body pain.
It's this emotional distress that may hold people back. Those who recover and return to work in less than a month have a rapid decrease of FAB and emotional distress. Patients with high stress/distress that lasts more than four weeks are more likely to become chronic pain patients. They have with pain and symptoms that last a year or more after the injury.
As a manager in the workplace, it may be a good idea to consult with a behavioral psychologist. He or she can help you and your employees manage recovery after workplace injuries.
Margreth Grotle, PhD, et al. Clinical Course and Impact of Fear-Avoidance Beliefs in Low Back Pain. In Spine. April 20, 2006. Vol. 31. No. 9. Pp. 1028-1046.
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