NSC Labor Division news Research/studies Worker health and wellness Workers' compensation Return to work

WCRI study: Injured workers face greater psychosocial risks during recovery

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Waltham, MA — Injured workers are more likely to experience psychosocial risk factors that can lead to “poorer functional recovery,” according to a recent study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute. 

Britain’s Health and Safety Executive defines psychosocial risk factors as “things that may affect workers’ psychological response to their work and workplace conditions (including working relationships with supervisors and colleagues).”

WCRI researchers used data from more than 131,000 documented “episodes of care” collected at physical therapy visits for patients experiencing low back pain between 2017 and 2022. Of those, nearly 8,000 episodes were covered by workers’ compensation.

Approximately 33% of workers’ compensation patients with low back pain had high scores for psychosocial risk factors, such as poor coping, catastrophizing, fear avoidance, perceived injustice and poor recovery expectations. 

“These psychosocial risk factors, which often prolong disability and return to work, especially for musculoskeletal injuries, are also referred to as ‘yellow flags,’” WCRI says in a press release.

Early identification of psychosocial risk factors is recommended by occupational medical treatment and disability guidelines, the release states.

“Despite the growing recognition of the importance of psychosocial factors in recovery, there remains a lack of comprehensive understanding of their prevalence, impact and potential interventions, especially within the workers’ compensation system. This study aims to fill some of those gaps,” Sebastian Negrusa, vice president of research at WCRI, said in the press release.

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