Does the Economy Affect Functional Restoration Outcomes for Patients with Chronic Disabling Occupational Musculoskeletal Disorders?

Meredith M. Hartzell, Tom G. Mayer, Randy Neblett, Dennis J. Marquardt, Robert Joseph Gatchel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Purpose To determine how the economy affects psychosocial and socioeconomic treatment outcomes in a cohort of chronic disabling occupational musculoskeletal disorder (CDOMD) patients who completed a functional restoration program (FRP). Methods A cohort of 969 CDOMD patients with active workers’ compensation claims completed an FRP (a medically-supervised, quantitatively-directed exercise progression program, with multi-modal disability management). A good economy (GE) group (n = 532) was released to work during a low unemployment period (2005–2007), and a poor economy (PE) group (n = 437) was released during a higher unemployment period (2008–2010). Patients were evaluated upon admission for demographic and psychosocial variables, and were reassessed at discharge. Socioeconomic outcomes, including work return and work retention 1 year post-discharge, were collected. Results Some significant differences in psychosocial self-report data were found, but most of the effect sizes were small, so caution should be made when interpreting the data. Compared to the PE group, the GE group reported more depressive symptoms and disability at admission, but demonstrated a larger decrease in depressive symptoms and disability and increase in self-reported quality of life at discharge. The PE group had lower rates of work return and retention 1-year after discharge, even after controlling for other factors such as length of disability and admission work status. Conclusions CDOMD patients who completed an FRP in a PE year were less likely to return to, or retain, work 1-year after discharge, demonstrating that a PE can be an additional barrier to post-discharge work outcomes. A difference in State unemployment rates of <3 % (7 vs. 5 %) had a disproportionate effect on patients’ failure to return to (19 vs. 6 %) or retain (28 vs. 15 %) work.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13
Pages (from-to)378-386
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Occupational Rehabilitation
Issue number2
StatePublished - 22 Jun 2015


  • Chronic occupational musculoskeletal disorders
  • Economy
  • Functional restoration program
  • Unemployment rates
  • Work return


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