Introduction: This prospective study describes the work ability and quality of life in workers returning from longterm sick leave (>6 months) who remained at work full time for at least 36 months.
Method: Thirty-one individuals who returned to work after long-term sick leave (RTWG) due to musculoskeletal disorders and a transversal matched Control Group (CG) of 31 workers were evaluated regarding work ability and quality of life. RTWG was followed-up from first week (baseline) to 1, 3, 6, 12 and 36 months after returning. Data were analyzed descriptively and by inferential tests. The Jacobson and Truax method for clinically significant analysis was applied.
Results: Although the RTWG showed lower values than the CG, significant improvement in work ability (p<0.001) and physical domain of quality of life (p<0.001) were associated with sustained work. Clinical significant changes were also identified for total quality of life and for quality of life domains. A high score of social domain was identified for RTWG at the baseline and remained high in subsequent evaluations.
Conclusion: Returning to work and staying occupationally active for at least three years lead to significant improvements in work capacity and quality of life in workers who have been on long sick leave.