Informing patients about postoperative return to work (RTW) expectations is of utmost importance because of the influence of realistic expectations on RTW outcomes.


We aimed to give an overview of the duration of sick leave and RTW rates after surgery for lumbar radiculopathy and to list predictors of and factors related to RTW.


A systematic review was carried out.


A systematic literature search was conducted in PubMed, Web of Science, EMBASE, and SCOPUS. Full-text articles on RTW following surgery for lumbar radiculopathy were included through double-blind screening. Risk of bias was assessed using a modified version of the Downs and Black checklist.


Sixty-three full-text articles (total sample size: 7,100 patients) were included. Risk of bias was scored low to high. Mean duration of sick leave ranged from 0.8 to 20 weeks. Within 0.1-240 months post surgery, 3%-100% of patients resumed work. Most important predictors for work resumption were preoperative work status, presence of comorbidities, age, sex and duration of preoperative symptoms. Duration of sick leave can be predicted by the preoperative level of pain or disability and presence of symptoms of depression, occupational mental stress, and lateral disc prolapse. Furthermore, less invasive surgical techniques were found to result in better RTW outcomes compared with more invasive techniques.


Diverse results were found for RTW rates and duration of sick leave. Preoperative work status, presence of comorbidities, and several demographic factors were retrieved as predictors of RTW and duration of sick leave.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1694-1714
Number of pages21
JournalThe Spine Journal
Issue number9
Early online date22 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018

    Research areas

  • Leg pain, Low back, Radiculopathy, Return to work, Sick leave, Vocational outcomes

ID: 39165288