McCluskey, Serena, de Vries, Haitze, Reneman, Michiel, Brooks, Joanna and Brouwer, Sandra (2015) A UK-Dutch study exploring the role of the family in helping those with persistent musculoskeletal pain to stay at work. Bone and joint journal: Orthopaedic Proceedings, 97-B (Supp 2). p. 20. ISSN 1358-992X

Background Emerging research has indicated that ‘significant others’ (spouses/relatives) may have important influences on continued work participation for individuals with chronic non-specific musculoskeletal pain (CMP). In order to expand on this novel area of research, data from studies conducted in The Netherlands and the UK were assimilated.

Method In both studies, worker and significant other perceptions of pain self-efficacy, perceived partner responses to pain, pain catastrophizing, and contribution to work participation were explored in relation to the worker's CMP. In the Netherlands, questionnaire data were collected from workers with CMP and their significant others (n=103), and in the UK, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted (n=10). Appropriate quantitative and qualitative analysis techniques were applied.

Results In the Dutch study, moderate to high levels of perceived pain self-efficacy, moderate levels of significant other solicitous and distracting responses, and low levels of significant other punishing responses and catastrophizing were reported by both significant others and workers. Significant others were viewed as crucial in helping maintain continued work participation by workers with CMP. Overall group averages indicated no significant differences, with the exception of greater pain catastrophizing reported by significant others (14.4 versus 11.1 p<0.01), although this was not deemed clinically relevant (ES=0.34). Qualitative data from the UK study supports these findings, further elaborating on the above concepts.

Conclusions This study adds further weight to the evidence which recognizes the importance of social context for successful pain management and vocational rehabilitation interventions.