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Last Updated: Friday, 7 September 2007, 01:15 GMT 02:15 UK
Back pain sufferers need to work
Commuters
Employers "need to do more" to help people back to work
People with conditions such as back pain and arthritis need to stay in work as much as possible, a report says.

The Work Foundation says the evidence suggests that being able to work helps sufferers of musculoskeletal disorders recover more quickly.

Yet many GPs and employers wrongly believe a sufferer must be "100% well" before any return to work, it says.

Experts agreed, but warned people could do more harm than good unless their work situation was properly assessed.

Such conditions affect more than one million people in the UK and cost society 7.4 billion a year, the Work Foundation says.

It also estimates that they account for up to a third of all GP consultations and cause 9.5 million lost working days.

Around 400,000 people suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, a quarter of whom stop work within five years of diagnosis.

What urgently needs to change is the attitude of many GPs and employers that a sufferer must be 100% well before any return to work can be contemplated
Michelle Mahdon, The Work Foundation

These and another 200 conditions affecting the spine, joints, muscles and tendons, collectively known as musculoskeletal disorders, are the biggest cause of work-related illness in the UK.

The foundation - an organisation which aims to find ways to boost both economic performance and quality of working life - says many sufferers are taking long periods of sick leave or quitting work altogether.

But it says the evidence suggests that people can benefit from going back to work as soon as possible.

GPs and employers need to focus on what people can do rather than what they cannot, the report said.

Changing attitudes

Senior researcher Michelle Mahdon said: "Stress hogs headlines, but in terms of people affected, musculoskeletal disorders are the bigger problem, affecting more than one million people a year - and, of course, their families.

"Work can be both cause and cure.

"It may cause or aggravate symptoms, but evidence is amassing that with the right support arrangements, work can also be part of the recovery by contributing to a person's self-esteem and sense of being productive.

"What urgently needs to change is the attitude of many GPs and employers that a sufferer must be 100% well before any return to work can be contemplated."

Dame Professor Carol Black, the government's National Director for Health and Work, said: "I hope that in time musculoskeletal disorders will become less relevant to work and working life.

"Until then, efforts to raise awareness of them must continue with ever greater urgency."

'Understand daily living'

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of the Arthritis Research Campaign, said that in appropriate cases a return to normal activities could lead to more rapid recovery, although fear of pain and lack of support from colleagues could make it daunting.

"However, work can be a major contributor to musculoskeletal problems through excessive loading, poor posture, repetitive movements and other mechanical causes," he added.

He said each person needed to be assessed individually to evaluate whether the work place environment could be modified to encourage return to work.

A spokesperson for Arthritis Care said: "This report highlights the need to boost GP understanding of daily living with such conditions - amazingly, addressing arthritis doesn't even feature on doctors' performance targets."

She said Arthritis Care provided training for employers and employees in working around conditions.

"Bosses can be more creative and flexible in helping people back to work."


SEE ALSO
Office 'culture' has to change
07 Sep 07 |  Health
Office workers risk back strain
17 Oct 06 |  Health
'My company helped me recover'
09 Oct 06 |  Health

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