Musculoskeletal disorders - rehabilitation

This section outlines the elements of best practice in rehabilitation and guidance for managing sickness absence.


The general message for people who suffer back pain is that they should stay active, try simple pain relief and, if necessary, seek medical help. For many MSDs, there may be temporary adjustments that can be made at work to allow the individual to remain at work without placing them at risk of aggravating their symptoms.

However, if a period of absence has been necessary, it’s important to manage the return to work with the individual. An overview of key considerations in this process can be found in the leaflet Work and health: changing how we think about common health problems.

Employees with back pain and other injuries should be encouraged to come back to work where this can be done in a safe and positive way. It may be that there are simple temporary measures that can be agreed, such as reduced hours so they can avoid peak travel times, which would make the process easier. More information on MSDs and return to work can be found on the HSE website.

A summary document from the International Association for the Study of Pain outlines all of the key elements which should be considered when considering the rehabilitation of people with back pain. The TUC’s approach to rehabilitation can be found at this link.

HSE guidance

The HSE suggests that effective management of sickness absence and return to work includes six key elements:

Find out more on the HSE website.

For rehabilitation and return to work following musculoskeletal injury, in most cases early intervention is the key. The longer a worker is off work with back pain, the less likely it is that they’ll return. However, by intervening early and putting in place return-to-work arrangements, you can avoid losing workers through long-term sickness. See the HSE website for more information about rehabilitation and return to work following back pain.

The HSE provides factsheets on managing sickness absence and return to work, for both health and safety representatives and managers.

The HSE also has tools and guidance documents to help with absence management and rehabilitation. These include:

More guidance

Professional health associations

Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Occupational Health and Ergonomics (ACPOHE)

British Association of Occupational Therapists and College of Occupational Therapists

British Chiropractic Association

British Society of Rehabilitation Medicine

Case Management Society UK

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy

Commercial Occupational Health Providers Association

Faculty of Occupational Medicine

Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors (previously the Ergonomics Society)

Institute of Occupational Medicine

Physio First

Scottish Chiropractic Association

Society of Occupational Medicine

Financial help and advice

Under certain circumstances, employees may qualify for government funding for the adjustments required to enable them to work.

Directgov explains...
‘If you feel that the type of work you do is affected by a disability or health condition that is likely to last for 12 months or more, ask the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at your local Jobcentre Plus office about Access to Work. They can put you in touch with your closest Access to Work Business Centre to check whether you're eligible for help’. Access to work has more...

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