Objective: To determine the effects of multidisciplinary in-patient rehabilitation for chronic back or neck pain on sickness absences and analgesic purchases.
Design: A prospective observational study.
Setting: 10 towns in Finland.
Participants: 34 838 local government employees, including 418 participants in rehabilitation for chronic back pain and 195 participants in rehabilitation for chronic neck pain between 1994 and 2002.
Main outcome measures: The annual rates of short (1–3 days), long (>3 days), and very long (>21 days) sickness absences and the defined daily doses (DDD) of prescribed analgesics.
Results: The rate of very long (>21 days) sickness absence among the chronic back pain rehabilitees was 3.03-fold (95% CI 2.55 to 3.60) compared to the non-rehabilitees in the year before rehabilitation. This ratio declined to 1.88 (95% CI 1.65 to 2.37) three years after rehabilitation. No further decline in the rate of very long sickness absence was observed in the subsequent years. For chronic neck pain rehabilitees, no evidence of the effectiveness of rehabilitation on sickness absence was found. In relation to consumption of analgesics, the mean rate of DDDs declined among the back and neck pain rehabilitees after rehabilitation compared to the non-rehabilitees.
Conclusions: Multidisciplinary in-patient rehabilitation for chronic back pain may decrease the risk of very long sickness absence for three years. In relation to rehabilitation for chronic neck pain, no changes in sickness absences were found.
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Funding: This study was supported by the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, the Academy of Finland (Projects 117614, 124271 and 124322), the Finnish Work Environment Fund, and the towns participating in the 10-Town Study.
Competing interests: None.