Spotlight on article published in BMC Public Health

IBI Spotlights call attention to important health and productivity findings from peer-reviewed work by external researchers. Unless otherwise stated, the authors are not affiliated with IBI, nor was the research executed on IBI’s behalf. IBI members are encouraged to obtain the original articles from the copyright holder.

What is the Issue?

Are occupational therapy interventions (OTI) effective at retuning temporarily disabled employees to work, and if so, what characteristics of OTIs matter the most?

What are the findings/solutions?

* Occupational therapy interventions as part of rehabilitation programs decrease the return to work time for temporarily disabled employees.
* Evidence for generalizable characteristics of successful occupational therapy interventions is lacking.

Journal Citation

Désiron, H.A.M., de Rijk, A., Van Hoof, E., Donceel, P. (2011) Occupational Therapy and Return to Work: a Systematic Literature Review. _BMC Public Health_, 11(1), 615.


Assess the effect of occupational therapy on return to work (RTW) and describe the aspects of OTI that contribute to the effect.


A systematic review of randomized-controlled or cohort studies that focus on occupational therapy with return to work or sick leave durations as outcomes.


  • 26 studies met the criteria for inclusion, but only six were deemed of sufficient quality to produce credible results. These six studies included 899 participants. Diagnoses included chronic low back, depression, whiplash, and traumatic brain injury.
  • All six studies found that participants in the occupational therapy interventions experienced fewer sick leave days and/or shorter durations of disabilities.
  • The diversity of study settings and interventions designs prevent an assessment of the characteristics of interventions (e.g., the role of occupational therapists relative to other specialists) that matter most.


The authors conclude that there is sufficient evidence to include occupational therapy as part of RTW efforts, but it is not yet clear what are the most important components of an OT program.