It is unclear whether and to what extent intensive case management is more effective than standard occupational health services in reducing sickness absence in the healthcare sector.
To evaluate a new return to work service at an English hospital trust.
The new service entailed intensive case management for staff who had been absent sick for longer than four weeks, aiming to restore function through a goal-directed and enabling approach based on a bio-psycho-social model. Assessment of the intervention was by controlled before and after comparison with a neighbouring hospital trust at which there were no major changes in the management of sickness absence. Data on outcome measures were abstracted from electronic databases held by the two trusts.
At the intervention trust, the proportion of 4-week absences which continued beyond 8 weeks fell from 51.7% in 2008 to 49.1% in 2009 and 45.9% in 2010. The reduction from 2008 to 2010 contrasted with an increase at the control trust from 51.2% to 56.1% – a difference in change of 10.7% (95%CI 1.5% to 20.0%). There was also a differential improvement in mean days of absence beyond four weeks, but this was not statistically significant (1.6 days per absence, 95%CI −7.2 to 10.3 days).
Our findings suggest that the intervention was effective, and calculations based on an annual running cost of £57,000 suggest that it was also cost-effective. A similar intervention should now be evaluated at a larger number of hospital trusts.
Sickness absence; case management; intervention; evaluation; cost-effectiveness; healthcare
To explore definitions for multi-site pain, and compare associations with risk factors for different patterns of musculoskeletal pain, we analysed cross-sectional data from the Cultural and Psychosocial Influences on Disability (CUPID) study. The study sample comprised 12,410 adults aged 20-59 years from 47 occupational groups in 18 countries. A standardised questionnaire was used to collect information about pain in the past month at each of 10 anatomical sites, and about potential risk factors. Associations with pain outcomes were assessed by Poisson regression, and characterised by prevalence rate ratios (PRRs). Extensive pain, affecting 6-10 anatomical sites, was reported much more frequently than would be expected if the occurrence of pain at each site were independent (674 participants v 41.9 expected). In comparison with pain involving only 1-3 sites, it showed much stronger associations (relative to no pain) with risk factors such as female sex (PRR 1.6 v 1.1), older age (PRR 2.6 v 1.1), somatising tendency (PRR 4.6 v 1.3) and exposure to multiple physically stressing occupational activities (PRR 5.0 v 1.4). After adjustment for number of sites with pain, these risk factors showed no additional association with a distribution of pain that was widespread according to the frequently used American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria. Our analysis supports the classification of pain at multiple anatomical sites simply by the number of sites affected, and suggests that extensive pain differs importantly in its associations with risk factors from pain that is limited to only a small number of anatomical sites.
In a large cross-sectional survey, pain affecting 6–10 anatomical sites showed substantially different associations with risk factors from pain limited to 1–3 sites.
To explore definitions for multisite pain, and compare associations with risk factors for different patterns of musculoskeletal pain, we analysed cross-sectional data from the Cultural and Psychosocial Influences on Disability (CUPID) study. The study sample comprised 12,410 adults aged 20–59 years from 47 occupational groups in 18 countries. A standardised questionnaire was used to collect information about pain in the past month at each of 10 anatomical sites, and about potential risk factors. Associations with pain outcomes were assessed by Poisson regression, and characterised by prevalence rate ratios (PRRs). Extensive pain, affecting 6–10 anatomical sites, was reported much more frequently than would be expected if the occurrence of pain at each site were independent (674 participants vs 41.9 expected). In comparison with pain involving only 1–3 sites, it showed much stronger associations (relative to no pain) with risk factors such as female sex (PRR 1.6 vs 1.1), older age (PRR 2.6 vs 1.1), somatising tendency (PRR 4.6 vs 1.3), and exposure to multiple physically stressing occupational activities (PRR 5.0 vs 1.4). After adjustment for number of sites with pain, these risk factors showed no additional association with a distribution of pain that was widespread according to the frequently used American College of Rheumatology criteria. Our analysis supports the classification of pain at multiple anatomical sites simply by the number of sites affected, and suggests that extensive pain differs importantly in its associations with risk factors from pain that is limited to only a small number of anatomical sites.
Pain; Multisite; Widespread; Definition; Risk factors
To explore whether risk factors for neurophysiologically confirmed carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) differ from those for sensory symptoms with normal median nerve conduction, and to test the validity and practical utility of a proposed definition for impaired median nerve conduction, we carried out a case–control study of patients referred for investigation of suspected CTS.
We compared 475 patients with neurophysiological abnormality (NP+ve) according to the definition, 409 patients investigated for CTS but classed as negative on neurophysiological testing (NP-ve), and 799 controls. Exposures to risk factors were ascertained by self-administered questionnaire. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) were estimated by logistic regression.
NP+ve disease was associated with obesity, use of vibratory tools, repetitive movement of the wrist or fingers, poor mental health and workplace psychosocial stressors. NP-ve illness was also related to poor mental health and occupational psychosocial stressors, but differed from NP+ve disease in showing associations also with prolonged use of computer keyboards and tendency to somatise, and no relation to obesity. In direct comparison of NP+ve and NP-ve patients (the latter being taken as the reference category), the most notable differences were for obesity (OR 2.7, 95 % CI 1.9-3.9), somatising tendency (OR 0.6, 95% CI 0.4-0.9), diabetes (OR 1.6, 95% CI 0.9-3.1) and work with vibratory tools (OR 1.4, 95% CI 0.9-2.2).
When viewed in the context of earlier research, our findings suggest that obesity, diabetes, use of hand-held vibratory tools, and repeated forceful movements of the wrist and hand are causes of impaired median nerve function. In addition, sensory symptoms in the hand, whether from identifiable pathology or non-specific in origin, may be rendered more prominent and distressing by hand activity, low mood, tendency to somatise, and psychosocial stressors at work. These differences in associations with risk factors support the validity of our definition of impaired median nerve conduction.
Carpal tunnel syndrome; Nerve conduction; Case–control; Obesity; Vibration; Occupation; Psychosocial; Somatising tendency; Upper limb disorders
We have previously proposed that sensory nerve conduction (SNC) in the median nerve should be classed as abnormal when the difference between conduction velocities in the little and index fingers is > 8 m/s. In a prospective longitudinal study, we investigated whether this case definition distinguished patients who were more likely to benefit from surgical treatment.
We followed up 394 patients (response rate 56%), who were investigated by a neurophysiology service for suspected carpal tunnel syndrome. Information about symptoms, treatment and other possible determinants of outcome was obtained through questionnaires at baseline and after follow-up for a mean of 19.2 months. Analysis focused on 656 hands with numbness, tingling or pain at baseline. Associations of surgical treatment with resolution of symptoms were assessed by Poisson regression, and summarised by prevalence rate ratios (PRRs) and associated 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs).
During follow-up, 154 hands (23%) were treated surgically, and sensory symptoms resolved in 241 hands (37%). In hands with abnormal median SNC, surgery was associated with resolution of numbness, tingling and pain (PRR 1.5, 95% CI 1.0-2.2), and of numbness and tingling specifically (PRR 1.8, 95% CI 1.3-2.6). In contrast, no association was apparent for either outcome when median SNC was classed as normal.
Our definition of abnormal median SNC distinguished a subset of patients who appeared to benefit from surgical treatment. This predictive capacity gives further support to its validity as a diagnostic criterion in epidemiological research.
Carpal tunnel syndrome; Neurophysiology; Case definition; Validity; Surgery; Outcome
To inform the clinical management of patients with suspected carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and case definition for CTS in epidemiological research, we explored the relation of symptoms and signs to sensory nerve conduction (SNC) measurements.
Patients aged 20–64 years who were referred to a neurophysiology service for investigation of suspected CTS, completed a symptom questionnaire (including hand diagrams) and physical examination (including Tinel’s and Phalen’s tests). Differences in SNC velocity between the little and index finger were compared according to the anatomical distribution of symptoms in the hand and findings on physical examination.
Analysis was based on 1806 hands in 908 patients (response rate 73%). In hands with numbness or tingling but negative on both Tinel’s and Phalen’s tests, the mean difference in SNC velocities was no higher than in hands with no numbness or tingling. The largest differences in SNC velocities occurred in hands with extensive numbness or tingling in the median nerve sensory distribution and both Tinel’s and Phalen’s tests positive (mean 13.8, 95% confidence interval (CI) 12.6-15.0 m/s). Hand pain and thumb weakness were unrelated to SNC velocity.
Our findings suggest that in the absence of other objective evidence of median nerve dysfunction, there is little value in referring patients of working age with suspected CTS for nerve conduction studies if they are negative on both Tinel’s and Phalen’s tests. Alternative case definitions for CTS in epidemiological research are proposed according to the extent of diagnostic information available and the relative importance of sensitivity and specificity.
Epidemiology; Evidence-based medicine; Hand; Nerve compression syndromes; Wrist
To assess the importance of psychological and culturally-influenced factors as predictors of incidence and persistence of LBP in a Spanish working population.
As part of the international CUPID study, 1105 Spanish nurses and office workers, aged 20-59 years, answered questions at baseline about LBP in the past month and past year, associated disability, occupational lifting, smoking habits, health beliefs, mental health, and distress from common somatic symptoms. At follow-up 12 months later, they were asked again about LBP and associated disability in the past month. Associations with the incidence and persistence of LBP were assessed by log binomial regression, and characterised by prevalence rate ratios (PRRs) with associated 95% confidence intervals (CIs).
971 participants (87.9%) completed follow-up. Among 579 with no LBP at baseline, 22.8% reported LBP at follow-up. After adjustment for sex, age and occupation, development of new LBP was predicted by poor mental health (PRR 1.5, 95%CI 1.0-2.2), somatising tendency (PRR 1.8, 95%CI 1.2-2.7), and presence of LBP for >1 month in the year before baseline (PRR 4.7, 95%CI 3.1-6.9). Among 392 subjects who had LBP at baseline, 59.4% reported persistence at follow-up. Persistence of LBP was associated with presence of symptoms for >1 month in the 12 months before baseline (PRR 1.4, 95%CI 1.2-1.7), and more weakly with somatising tendency, and with adverse beliefs about the work-relatedness and prognosis of LBP
In Spain, as in northern European countries, psychological and culturally-influenced factors have an important role in the development and persistence of LBP.
low back pain; health beliefs; mental health; somatising tendency
Effective communication is necessary for good relationships between healthcare practitioners and clients. This study examined barriers and facilitators to implementing new communication skills.
One hundred and one Sure Start Children’s Centre staff attended one of 13 follow-up workshops to reflect on the use of new skills following a training course in communication, reflection and problem-solving. Barriers and facilitators were assessed with an adapted Problematic Experiences of Therapy scale (PETS). Staff reported frequency of skill use, and described what made it more difficult or easier to use the skills.
The PETS indicated that staff had confidence in using the skills, but felt there were practical barriers to using them, such as lack of time. Skills were used less often when staff perceived parents not to be engaging with them (rs=−0.42, p<.001), when staff felt less confident to use the skills (rs =−0.37, p<.001), and when there were more practical barriers (rs =−0.37, p<.001). In support of findings from the PETS, content analysis of free text responses suggested that the main barrier was a perceived lack of time to implement new skills. Facilitators included seeing the benefits of using the skills, finding opportunities and having good relationships with parents.
Understanding the range of barriers and facilitators to implementation is essential when developing training to facilitate on-going support and sustain skill use. Special attention should be given to exploring trainees’ perceptions of time, in order to be able to address this significant barrier to skill implementation. Staff training requires a multifaceted approach to address the range of perceived barriers.
barriers; communication; epidemiology; Sure Start; training
Little is known about food insecurity in the UK. The aims of this study were to assess the prevalence and factors associated with food insecurity in a UK cohort, and to examine whether the diets, reported health and anthropometry of young food insecure children differed from those of other children.
The Southampton Women’s Survey is a prospective cohort study in which detailed information about the diet, lifestyle and body composition of 3000 women was collected before and during pregnancy. Between 2002-2006, 1618 families were followed up when the child was 3 years old. Food insecurity was determined using the Household Food Security scale. The child’s height and weight were measured; diet was assessed by food frequency questionnaire.
4.6% of the households were food insecure. Food insecurity was more common in families where the mothers were younger, smokers, of lower social class, in receipt of financial benefits, and who had a higher deprivation score (all p<0.05). In comparison with other 3-year-old children, those living in food insecure households were likely to have worse parent-reported health and to have a diet of poorer quality, characterised by greater consumption of white bread, processed meat and chips, and by a lower consumption of vegetables (all p<0.05). They did not differ in height or body mass index.
Our data suggest that there are significant numbers of food insecure families in the UK. The poorer reported health and diets of young food insecure children have important implications for their development and lifelong health.
food insecurity; body composition; dietary quality; children
Large international variation in the prevalence of disabling forearm and low back pain was only partially explained by established personal and socioeconomic risk factors.
To compare the prevalence of disabling low back pain (DLBP) and disabling wrist/hand pain (DWHP) among groups of workers carrying out similar physical activities in different cultural environments, and to explore explanations for observed differences, we conducted a cross-sectional survey in 18 countries. Standardised questionnaires were used to ascertain pain that interfered with everyday activities and exposure to possible risk factors in 12,426 participants from 47 occupational groups (mostly nurses and office workers). Associations with risk factors were assessed by Poisson regression. The 1-month prevalence of DLBP in nurses varied from 9.6% to 42.6%, and that of DWHP in office workers from 2.2% to 31.6%. Rates of disabling pain at the 2 anatomical sites covaried (r = 0.76), but DLBP tended to be relatively more common in nurses and DWHP in office workers. Established risk factors such as occupational physical activities, psychosocial aspects of work, and tendency to somatise were confirmed, and associations were found also with adverse health beliefs and group awareness of people outside work with musculoskeletal pain. However, after allowance for these risk factors, an up-to 8-fold difference in prevalence remained. Systems of compensation for work-related illness and financial support for health-related incapacity for work appeared to have little influence on the occurrence of symptoms. Our findings indicate large international variation in the prevalence of disabling forearm and back pain among occupational groups carrying out similar tasks, which is only partially explained by the personal and socioeconomic risk factors that were analysed.
Low back; Forearm; Pain; International; Socioeconomic; Psychosocial
The aim of this study was to investigate whether whole-body vibration (WBV) is associated with prolapsed lumbar intervertebral disc (PID) and nerve root entrapment among patients with low-back pain (LBP) undergoing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
A consecutive series of patients referred for lumbar MRI because of LBP were compared with controls X-rayed for other reasons. Subjects were questioned about occupational activities loading the spine, psychosocial factors, driving, personal characteristics, mental health, and certain beliefs about LBP. Exposure to WBV was assessed by six measures, including weekly duration of professional driving, hours driven at a spell, and current 8-hour daily equivalent root-mean-square acceleration A(8). Cases were sub-classified according to whether or not PID/nerve root entrapment was present. Associations with WBV were examined separately for cases with and without these MRI findings, with adjustment for age, sex, and other potential confounders.
Altogether, 237 cases and 820 controls were studied, including 183 professional drivers and 176 cases with PID and/or nerve root entrapment. Risks associated with WBV tended to be lower for LBP with PID/nerve root entrapment but somewhat higher for risks of LBP without these abnormalities. However, associations with the six metrics of exposure were all weak and not statistically significant. Neither exposure–response relationships nor increased risk of PID/nerve root entrapment from professional driving or exposure at an A(8) above the European Union daily exposure action level were found.
WBV may be a cause of LBP but it was not associated with PID or nerve root entrapment in this study.
back pain; disc pathology; whole-body vibration
A number of studies suggest that breastfeeding has beneficial effects on adult cardiovascular risk factors in adulthood, although the mechanisms involved are unknown. One possible explanation is that adults who were breastfed differ in their health behaviours. In a historical cohort, adult health behaviours were examined in relation to type of milk feeding in infancy. From 1931-1939, records were kept on all infants born in Hertfordshire, UK. Their type of milk feeding was summarised as breastfed only, breast & bottle-fed, or bottle-fed only. Information about adult health behaviours was collected from 3217 of these men and women when they were aged 59-73 years. Diet was assessed by administered food frequency questionnaire; the key dietary pattern was a ‘prudent’ pattern, that described compliance with ‘healthy’ eating recommendations. 60% of the men and women were breastfed, 31% were breast & bottle-fed, 9% were bottle-fed. Type of milk feeding did not differ according to social class at birth, and was not related to social class attained in adult life. There were no differences in smoking status, alcohol intake or reported physical activity according to type of milk feeding, but there were differences in the participants’ dietary patterns. In a multivariate model that included gender and infant weight gain, there were independent associations between type of feeding and prudent diet scores in adult life (P=0.009), such that higher scores were associated with being breast fed. These data support experimental findings that suggest that early dietary exposures can have lifelong influences on food choice.
Breastfeeding; food choice; dietary patterns; health behaviours
Pain in the neck and shoulder has been linked with various psychosocial risk factors, as well as with occupational physical activities. However, most studies to date have been cross-sectional, making it difficult to exclude reverse causation. Moreover, they have been carried out largely in northern Europe, and the relationship to psychosocial factors might be different in other cultural environments.
To explore causes of neck/shoulder pain, we carried out a longitudinal study in Iranian nurses and office workers. Participants (n = 383) completed a baseline questionnaire about neck/shoulder pain in the past month and possible risk factors, and were again asked about pain 12 months later. Associations with pain at follow-up were explored by Poisson regression and summarised by prevalence rate ratios (PRRs).
After adjustment for other risk factors, new pain at follow-up was more frequent in office workers than nurses (PRR 1.9, 95%CI 1.3–2.8), among those with worst mental health (PRR 1.8, 95%CI 1.0–3.0), in those who reported incentives from piecework or bonuses (PRR1.4, 95%CI 1.0–2.0), and in those reporting job dissatisfaction (PRR 1.5, 95%CI 1.0–2.1). The strongest predictor of pain persistence was somatising tendency.
Our findings are consistent with a hazard of neck/shoulder pain from prolonged use of computer keyboards, although it is possible that the association is modified by health beliefs and expectations. They also indicate that the association of low mood with neck/shoulder pain extends to non-European populations, and is not entirely attributable to reverse causation. Psychosocial aspects of work appeared to have relatively weak impact.
Factors influencing work-related musculoskeletal disorders might differ in developing and developed countries.
To assess the prevalence and determinants of musculoskeletal pain in four occupational populations in Sri Lanka
As part of the international CUPID study, samples of postal workers, sewing machinists, nurses and computer operators were interviewed about pain in the past month at each of six anatomical sites, and about possible physical and psychosocial risk factors. Associations with prevalent pain were assessed by binomial regression.
Analysis was based on 852 participants (response rate 86%). Overall, the lower back was the most common site of pain, with one-month prevalence ranging from 12% in computer operators to 30% in nurses. Postal workers had the highest prevalence of shoulder pain (23%), but pain in the wrist/hand was relatively uncommon in all four occupational groups (prevalence rates from 8% to 9%). Low mood and tendency to somatise were each consistently associated with pain at all six sites. After adjustment for psychosocial risk factors, there was a higher rate of low back pain in nurses and postal workers than computer operators, a higher rate of shoulder pain in postal workers relative to other occupations, and a relatively low rate of knee pain in computer operators.
Rates of regional pain, especially at the wrist/hand, were lower than have been reported in western countries. As elsewhere, pain was strongly associated with low mood and somatising tendency. Differences in patterns of pain by occupation may reflect differences in physical activities.
Low back; neck; shoulder; elbow; wrist; knee; risk factor; psychosocial; low mood; somatising tendency
Experts disagree about the optimal classification of upper limb disorders (ULDs). To explore whether differential response to treatments offers a basis for choosing between case definitions, we analysed previously published research.
We screened 183 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of treatments for ULDs, identified from the bibliographies of 10 Cochrane reviews, four other systematic reviews, and a search in Medline, Embase, and Google Scholar to June 2010. From these, we selected RCTs which allowed estimates of benefit (expressed as relative risks (RRs)) for >1 case definition to be compared when other variables (treatment, comparison group, follow-up time, outcome measure) were effectively held constant. Comparisons of RRs for paired case definitions were summarised by their ratios, with the RR for the simpler and broader definition as the denominator.
Two RCT reports allowed within-trial comparison of RRs and thirteen others allowed between-trial comparisons. Together these provided 17 ratios of RRs (five for shoulder treatments, 12 for elbow treatments, none for wrist/hand treatments). The median ratio of RRs was 1.0 (range 0.3 to 1.7; interquartile range 0.6 to 1.3).
Although the evidence base is limited, our findings suggest that for musculoskeletal disorders of the shoulder and elbow, clinicians in primary care will often do best to apply simpler and broader case definitions. Researchers should routinely publish secondary analyses for subgroups of patients by different diagnostic features at trial entry, to expand the evidence base on optimal case definitions for patient management.
The CUPID (Cultural and Psychosocial Influences on Disability) study was established to explore the hypothesis that common musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and associated disability are importantly influenced by culturally determined health beliefs and expectations. This paper describes the methods of data collection and various characteristics of the study sample.
A standardised questionnaire covering musculoskeletal symptoms, disability and potential risk factors, was used to collect information from 47 samples of nurses, office workers, and other (mostly manual) workers in 18 countries from six continents. In addition, local investigators provided data on economic aspects of employment for each occupational group. Participation exceeded 80% in 33 of the 47 occupational groups, and after pre-specified exclusions, analysis was based on 12,426 subjects (92 to 1018 per occupational group). As expected, there was high usage of computer keyboards by office workers, while nurses had the highest prevalence of heavy manual lifting in all but one country. There was substantial heterogeneity between occupational groups in economic and psychosocial aspects of work; three- to five-fold variation in awareness of someone outside work with musculoskeletal pain; and more than ten-fold variation in the prevalence of adverse health beliefs about back and arm pain, and in awareness of terms such as “repetitive strain injury” (RSI).
The large differences in psychosocial risk factors (including knowledge and beliefs about MSDs) between occupational groups should allow the study hypothesis to be addressed effectively.
To quantify the variation in rates of absence due to musculoskeletal pain across 47 occupational groups (mostly nurses and office workers) from 18 countries, and to explore personal and group-level risk factors that might explain observed differences.
A standardised questionnaire was used to obtain information about musculoskeletal pain, sickness absence and possible risk factors in a cross-sectional survey of 12 416 workers (92–1017 per occupational group). Additionally, group-level data on socioeconomic variables, such as sick pay and unemployment rates, were assembled by members of the study team in each country. Associations of sickness absence with risk factors were examined by Poisson regression.
Overall, there were more than 30-fold differences between occupational groups in the 12-month prevalence of prolonged musculoskeletal sickness absence, and even among office workers carrying out similar occupational tasks, the variation was more than tenfold. Personal risk factors included older age, lower educational level, tendency to somatise, physical loading at work and prolonged absence for non-musculoskeletal illness. However, these explained little of the variation between occupational groups. After adjustment for individual characteristics, prolonged musculoskeletal sickness absence was more frequent in groups with greater time pressure at work, lower job control and more adverse beliefs about the work-relatedness of musculoskeletal disorders.
Musculoskeletal sickness absence might be reduced by eliminating excessive time pressures in work, maximising employees’ responsibility and control and providing flexibility of duties for those with disabling symptoms. Care should be taken not to overstate work as a cause of musculoskeletal injury.
international; risk factors; time pressure