Health and illness representations of workers with a musculoskeletal disorder-related work disability during work rehabilitation: a qualitative study

Coutu, MF; Baril, R; Durand, MJ; Côté, D; Cadieux, G. (2011). Health and illness representations of workers with a musculoskeletal disorder-related work disability during work rehabilitation: a qualitative study. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 21(4):591-600.

Introduction Distinctions between disease and illness have been criticized for being too theoretical. In practice, however, it may help explain gaps in understanding and miscommunication between health care professionals and patients/injured workers, since each has their own perception of reality. To reduce the gap between health care professionals and patients in understanding the definition of disease, this paper documents general representations of health, illness and work-related musculoskeletal disorders and their influence on the work rehabilitation program. Methods A qualitative methodology was used. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 16 participants (male, female) recruited when they were starting an intensive interdisciplinary work rehabilitation program for chronic pain due to a musculoskeletal disorder. Interviews were performed at three points during the program and 1 month after discharge. Results First, participants described health and illness in terms of: (1) illness prototype; (2) the absence or presence of symptoms; (3) physical health and capacities; (4) engaging in a healthy lifestyle; (5) maintaining independence; (6) preserving mental well-being; and (7) healing from accidents or injuries. A second observation was that rehabilitation success depended on workers transitioning from a less mechanistic to a more functional view of health. Conclusion This study highlights the importance of identifying and acknowledging workers' health, illness and WRMSD representations to facilitate their return to work.

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