Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Low back pain patients' experiences of work modifications; a qualitative study

Carol Coole1*, Paul J Watson2 and Avril Drummond1

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Rehabilitation and Ageing, School of Community Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, UK

2 Department of Health Sciences, Academic Unit, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2010, 11:277  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-11-277

Published: 6 December 2010



Research indicates that work modifications can reduce sickness absence and work disability due to low back pain. However, there are few studies that have described modified work from the perspective of patients. A greater understanding of their experiences may inform future workplace management of employees with this condition.


Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with twenty-five employed patients who had been referred for back pain rehabilitation. All had expressed concern about their ability to work due to low back pain. Data was analysed thematically.


Many participants had made their own work modifications, which were guided by the extent of control they had over their hours and duties, colleague support, and their own beliefs and attitudes about working with back pain. A minority of the participants had received advice or support with work modifications through occupational health. Access to these services was limited and usually followed lengthy sickness absence. Implementation largely rested with the manager and over-cautious approaches were common.


There was little evidence of compliance with occupational health guidance on modified work. There appears to be insufficient expertise among managers and occupational health in modifying work for employees with low back pain and little indication of joint planning. On the whole, workers make their own modifications, or arrange them informally with their manager and colleagues, but remain concerned about working with back pain. More effective and appropriate application of modifications may increase employees' confidence in their ability to work.