, Volume 85, Issue 2, pp 109-123,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 10 Jun 2011

Are performance-based measures predictive of work participation in patients with musculoskeletal disorders? A systematic review



Assessments of whether patients with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can participate in work mainly consist of case history, physical examinations, and self-reports. Performance-based measures might add value in these assessments. This study answers the question: how well do performance-based measures predict work participation in patients with MSDs?


A systematic literature search was performed to obtain longitudinal studies that used reliable performance-based measures to predict work participation in patients with MSDs. The following five sources of information were used to retrieve relevant studies: PubMed, Embase, AMA Guide to the Evaluation of Functional Ability, references of the included papers, and the expertise and personal file of the authors. A quality assessment specific for prognostic studies and an evidence synthesis were performed.


Of the 1,230 retrieved studies, eighteen fulfilled the inclusion criteria. The studies included 4,113 patients, and the median follow-up period was 12 months. Twelve studies took possible confounders into account. Five studies were of good quality and thirteen of moderate quality. Two good-quality and all thirteen moderate-quality studies (83%) reported that performance-based measures were predictive of work participation. Two good-quality studies (11%) reported both an association and no association between performance-based measures and work participation. One good-quality study (6%) found no effect. A performance-based lifting test was used in fourteen studies and appeared to be predictive of work participation in thirteen studies.


Strong evidence exists that a number of performance-based measures are predictive of work participation in patients with MSDs, especially lifting tests. Overall, the explained variance was modest.