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Fear avoidance beliefs and risk of long-term sickness absence

Tidsskriftartikel - 2018


Background and Objective: Musculoskeletal pain is common in the population. Negative beliefs about musculoskeletal pain and physical activity may lead to avoidance behavior resulting in absence from work. The present study investigates the influence of fear avoidance beliefs on long-term sickness absence.

Methods: Workers of the general working population with musculoskeletal pain (low back, neck/shoulder, and/or arm/hand pain; n = 8319) from the Danish Work Environment Cohort Study were included. Long-term sickness absence data were obtained from the Danish Register for Evaluation and Marginalization (DREAM). Time-to-event analyses (cox regression) controlled for various confounders estimated the association between fear avoidance beliefs (very low, low, moderate [reference category], high, and very high) at baseline and long-term sickness absence (LTSA; ≥6 consecutive weeks) during a 2-year follow-up.

Results: During the 2-year follow-up, 10.2% of the workers experienced long-term sickness absence. In the fully adjusted model, very high-level fear avoidance increased the risk of LTSA with hazard ratio (HR) of 1.48 (95% CI 1.15-1.90). Similar results were seen analyses stratified for occupational physical activity, i.e., sedentary workers (HR 1.72 (95% CI 1.04-2.83)) and physically active workers (HR 1.48 (95% CI 1.10-2.01)).

Conclusion: A very high level of fear avoidance is a risk factor for long-term sickness absence among workers with musculoskeletal pain regardless of the level of occupational physical activity. Future interventions should target fear avoidance beliefs through information and campaigns about the benefits of staying active when having musculoskeletal pain.


Jay K, Thorsen SV, Sundstrup E, Aiguadé R, Casaña J, Calatayud J, Andersen LL. Fear avoidance beliefs and risk of long-term sickness absence: Prospective cohort study among workers with musculoskeletal pain. Pain Research and Treatment 2018;2018:8347120.
doi: 10.1155/2018/8347120

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