Many studies have looked at the risk factors for the development of persistent low back pain (LBP). Depression, perceived injustice and various other psycho-social issues have been found to be risk factors for the development of LBP.
Interestingly this study did the opposite: instead of looking at risk factors, it evaluated the protective factors. In other words, they looked for factors that help prevent the development of persistent work related LBP.
I personally found the results fascinating, yet far from shocking. It appears one of the best ways to protect against work-related acute LBP from becoming chronic is to have the perception that one has good social support at work.
Personal Comments: Having “good social support at work” may be as simple as getting along with your co-workers or receiving a phone call from your supervisor or boss asking you personally, “How are you doing?”.
It appears having a caring work environment goes a long way in predicting recovery from LBP. After all, there is little incentive to return to work when you consider yourself as just a number in an assembly line where no one will miss you anyways. It is sad when one feels no one from work even cares that you are off on sick leave.
If you are an employer, I just have a word of advice. If an employee is absent from work for any reason, make a point of calling them personally and simply saying, “How are you? We look forward to having you back when you are better.”
That short one-minute phone call may perhaps help prevent months of disability and be more beneficial than any manual therapy or specific exercise a PT can provide! Sometimes there are more important issues that need attention and “fixing” anatomy becomes irrelevant.
Reference: Melloh M1, Elfering A, Stanton TR, Käser A, Salathé CR, Barz T, Röder C, Theis JC. Who is likely to develop persistent low back pain? A longitudinal analysis of prognostic occupational factors. Work. 2013 Jan 1;46(3):297-311.