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Women with Neck Pain on Long-Term Sick Leave - Approaches used in the Return to Work Process: a Qualitative Study

Journal article
Authors Linda Åhlström
Lotta Dellve
Mats Hagberg
Karin Ahlberg
Published in Journal of occupational rehabilitation
Volume 27
Issue 1
Pages 92-105
ISSN 1053-0487
Publication year 2017
Published at Institute of Medicine, School of Public Health and Community Medicine
Institute of Health and Care Sciences
Pages 92-105
Language en
Keywords Rehabilitation – Work disability – Absenteeism – Grounded theory – Return to work
Subject categories Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology


Purpose There are difficulties in the process of return to work (RTW) from long-term sick leave, both in general and regarding sick leave because of neck pain in particular. Neck pain is difficult to assess, problematic to rehabilitate, and hard to cure; and it is not always easy to decide whether the pain is work-related. The outcome of RTW could be dependent upon individuals’ approaches, defensive or offensive behaviors, and choices related to their self-efficacy. The aim of this study was to identify approaches used in the RTW process among women with neck pain on long-term sick leave from human service organizations. Methods This is a qualitative descriptive study based on grounded theory. A Swedish cohort of 207 women with a history of long-term sick leave with neck pain from human service organizations answered open-ended written questions at 0, 6, and 12 months, and 6 years; and 16 women were interviewed. Results Individuals expressed their coping approaches in terms of fluctuating in work status over time: either as a strategy or as a consequence. Periods of sick leave were interwoven with periods of work. The women were either controlling the interaction or struggling in the interaction with stakeholders. Conclusions Return to work outcomes may be improved if the fluctuating work status over time is taken into account in the design of rehabilitation efforts for women with a history of long-term sick leave and with chronical musculoskeletal conditions.

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