Study Shows Poorer Recovery Among Injured Workers with Psychosocial Risk Factors

April 2, 2024

Workers’ compensation patients had a higher prevalence of psychosocial risk factors than private insurance patients, and a stronger association between psychosocial risk factors and functional outcomes, a new study shows.

The study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute found that the psychosocial risk factors include poor recovery expectations after an injury, fear avoidance, poor coping, catastrophizing and perceived injustice.

These risk factors, which often prolong disability and return to work, especially for musculoskeletal injuries, are also referred to as “yellow flags,” according to the WCRI.

The study, Importance of Psychosocial Factors for Physical Therapy Outcomes, sought to determine their prevalence and their association with recovery in workers’ comp and non-workers’ comp patients.

The questions the study addresses include:

How prevalent are psychosocial risk factors in low back pain patients receiving physical therapy in workers’ compensation?

  • Does the prevalence of these factors vary across different payor types and patient groups?
  • Do patients, with and without psychosocial risk factors, recover differently?
  • To what extent do the psychosocial risk factors explain differences in physical therapy outcomes observed between workers’ compensation and non-workers’ compensation patients?

The WCRI is an independent, not-for-profit research organization based in Waltham, Massachusetts.

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