Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 591–600 | Cite as

Health and Illness Representations of Workers with a Musculoskeletal Disorder-Related Work Disability During Work Rehabilitation: A Qualitative Study

  • Marie-France CoutuEmail author
  • Raymond Baril
  • Marie-José Durand
  • Daniel Côté
  • Geneviève Cadieux


Introduction Distinctions between disease and illness have been criticized for being too theoretical. In practice, however, it may help explain gaps in understanding and miscommunication between health care professionals and patients/injured workers, since each has their own perception of reality. To reduce the gap between health care professionals and patients in understanding the definition of disease, this paper documents general representations of health, illness and work-related musculoskeletal disorders and their influence on the work rehabilitation program. Methods A qualitative methodology was used. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 16 participants (male, female) recruited when they were starting an intensive interdisciplinary work rehabilitation program for chronic pain due to a musculoskeletal disorder. Interviews were performed at three points during the program and 1 month after discharge. Results First, participants described health and illness in terms of: (1) illness prototype; (2) the absence or presence of symptoms; (3) physical health and capacities; (4) engaging in a healthy lifestyle; (5) maintaining independence; (6) preserving mental well-being; and (7) healing from accidents or injuries. A second observation was that rehabilitation success depended on workers transitioning from a less mechanistic to a more functional view of health. Conclusion This study highlights the importance of identifying and acknowledging workers’ health, illness and WRMSD representations to facilitate their return to work.


Beliefs Attitudes Disability Work rehabilitation Musculoskeletal disorder 



This study was made possible through the participation of workers on long-term absences from work. Their commitment to the project was demonstrated on more than one occasion by their ready availability for the interviews. This study was supported by a joint grant from the Institut de recherché Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST) and the Chaire de recherche en réadaptatin au travail J. Armand Bombardier and Pratt & Whitney Canada. MFC and MJD also wish to thank the Fonds de Recherche en Santé du Canada for their salary awards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marie-France Coutu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Raymond Baril
    • 2
    • 3
  • Marie-José Durand
    • 1
  • Daniel Côté
    • 3
  • Geneviève Cadieux
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Action in Work Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation, School of RehabilitationUniversité de SherbrookeLongueuilCanada
  2. 2.School of RehabilitationUniversité de SherbrookeSherbrookeCanada
  3. 3.Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et sécurité du travailMontrealCanada

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