Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Occupational therapy and return to work: a systematic literature review

Huguette AM Désiron1*, Angelique de Rijk2, Elke Van Hoof34 and Peter Donceel1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Occupational, Environmental and Insurance Medicine, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Kapucijnenvoer 35, B3000 Leuven, Belgium

2 Department of Social Medicine, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences Maastricht University, P.O. Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands

3 Department of Experimental and Applied Psychology (EXTO), Faculty of Psychological and Educational Science, Vrije Universiteit Brussel - Pleinlaan 2, B1050 Brussels, Belgium

4 Belgian Cancer Centre, Scientific Institute of Public Health, Brussels, Belgium

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:615  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-615

Published: 2 August 2011



The primary aim of this review study was to gather evidence on the effectiveness in terms of return to work (RTW) of occupational therapy interventions (OTIs) in rehabilitation patients with non-congenital disorders. A secondary aim was to be able to select the most efficient OTI.


A systematic literature review of peer-reviewed papers was conducted using electronic databases (Cinahl, Cochrane Library, Ebsco, Medline (Pubmed), and PsycInfo). The search focussed on randomised controlled trials and cohort studies published in English from 1980 until September 2010. Scientific validity of the studies was assessed.


Starting from 1532 papers with pertinent titles, six studies met the quality criteria. Results show systematic reviewing of OTIs on RTW was challenging due to varying populations, different outcome measures, and poor descriptions of methodology. There is evidence that OTIs as part of rehabilitation programs, increase RTW rates, although the methodological evidence of most studies is weak.


Analysis of the selected papers indicated that OTIs positively influence RTW; two studies described precisely what the content of their OTI was. In order to identify the added value of OTIs on RTW, studies with well-defined OT intervention protocols are necessary.