I work as a vocational manager in a large meat packing plant. When workers are out with back pain or injury for more than six months, I meet with them to look at ways to get them back to work. It seems that spinal fusion has become a very popular treatment method. More of our workers get back to work after this operation. What other options do workers have for this problem?

Treatment for chronic low back pain does depend on the cause of the problem, health and age of the worker, and even worker motivation. Lumbar fusion is advised for patients with back pain of unknown cause that lasts more than six months. The patient usually has failed more conventional, nonoperative treatment.

Researchers are busy carrying out studies on back pain patients. They are comparing what works with how much it costs. Chiropractic, physical therapy, rest and light activity, and surgery are a few of the areas under investigation.

A recent study from Sweden found workers who qualified for lumbar spinal fusion were twice as likely to return to work as workers who qualified but didn't have a fusion. More workers returned to work either full or part-time after lumbar fusion.