BACKGROUND: To describe the design of a population based randomized controlled trial (RCT), including a cost-effectiveness analysis, comparing participative ergonomics interventions between 2-8 weeks of sick leave and Graded Activity after 8 weeks of sick leave with usual care, in occupational back pain management.
DESIGN: An RCT and cost-effectiveness evaluation in employees sick-listed for a period of 2 to 6 weeks due to low back pain. Interventions used are 1. Communication between general practitioner and occupational physician plus Participative Ergonomics protocol performed by an ergonomist. 2. Graded Activity based on cognitive behavioural principles by a physiotherapist. 3. Usual care, provided by an occupational physician according to the Dutch guidelines for the occupational health management of workers with low back pain. The primary outcome measure is return to work. Secondary outcome measures are pain intensity, functional status and general improvement. Intermediate variables are kinesiophobia and pain coping. The cost-effectiveness analysis includes the direct and indirect costs due to low back pain. The outcome measures are assessed before randomization (after 2-6 weeks on sick leave) and 12 weeks, 26 weeks and 52 weeks after first day of sick leave.
DISCUSSION: The combination of these interventions has been subject of earlier research in Canada. The results of the current RCT will: 1. crossvalidate the Canadian findings in an different sociocultural environment; 2. add to the cost-effectiveness on treatment options for workers in the sub acute phase of low back pain. Results might lead to alterations of existing (inter)national guidelines.