What Factors Influence Return To Work After a Motor Vehicle Accident?

Motor vehicle accidents are a common cause of brain injury in teens and adults. A common concern of patients who have experienced a brain injury is their ability to live independently. Part of being able to live independently involves being able to work and financially support oneself. Returning to work is a goal of patients who have sustained a brain injury, which many factors influence. Researchers are trying to better understand specifically, which factors are most important to determine if someone is likely to return to work or not. In this blog post, we discuss the factors associated with return to work in people with mild traumatic brain injury from a motor vehicle accident.

What factors influence return to work after a motor vehicle accident?

Ruffolo, Friedland, Dawson, Colantonio, & Lindsay (1999) conducted a study in 50 adults aged 19-65 who had previously been working who sustained a mild brain injury caused by a motor vehicle accident. From previous research, Ruffolo et. al (1999) expected that if patients sustained a severe injury and had substantial cognitive impairment, they would be less likely to return to work. In addition, they also hypothesized that patients who engage in more social interaction are more likely to be referred for rehabilitation than patients who are less social. The researchers also hypothesized that the type of job someone had before their injury would make a difference in whether they returned to work or not, in that people who were in roles that allowed them to make more decision may be more likely to get back to work than those who are in roles that do not allow them to make many independent decisions. To test these hypotheses, the researchers assessed patients on their injury severity, cognitive functioning, social interaction, discharge disposition, and sociodemographic factors using specific questionnaires.

Out of the 50 participants, 21 of the participants were able to return to work. Out of those 21 people who were able to return to work, 2 people were able to return to their same work duties before their injury and 6 people returned to modified employment. Modifications were needed due to physical and cognitive complications resulting from the brain injury. For the remaining 29 people who were not able to return to work, 24 people experienced debilitating physical disability, 2 people experienced debilitating cognitive disability, and 2 people experienced both debilitating physical and cognitive disabilities. 

The Results

From the results of the assessments, researchers found several interesting results in examining the factors that may influence a person’s likelihood of returning to work post-injury after a motor vehicle accident. 


  1. Patients who returned to work performed better on the information processing assessments than did patients who did not return to work. 
  2. Social interaction appeared to be a significant factor in regards to return to work, as people who returned to work reported more social interaction than did people who did not return to work. 
  3. People who were married were more likely to have returned to work than those who did not. 
  4. People who were discharged to a rehabilitation facility had not returned to work in any capacity in comparison to patients who were discharged home and with or without support services. 
  5. People who are in roles that require more independent work and greater decision making are more likely to return to work than those who are in roles with less flexibility. 

The results of the study suggest that job type, information processing abilities, discharge deposition, and access to social support and interaction are influential factors in someone’s likelihood to return to work post-injury. The more independence a person has to make decisions in their work may influence their likelihood of returning to work post-injury, as people who did not return to work had jobs in clerical, sales and service, manual labor, or skilled crafts and trades industries which do not provide ample opportunities for independent decision making. 


Return to work after sustaining a brain injury from a motor vehicle accident is influenced by many factors. Some important factors that influence return to work are injury severity, the job type held before injury, social interaction and support, and the outcome of discharge from the hospital. Therapists may want to work with clients who are recovering from a brain injury resulting from a motor vehicle accident on social skills, cognitive functioning, physical health, and finding social support and identifying a support system. In addition, therapists may serve as job coaches for clients post-injury by helping their clients get back to their former job or helping them find new employment opportunities that match their abilities and interests. 

Ruffolo, C. F., Friedland, J. F., Dawson, D. R., Colantonio, A., & Lindsay, P. H. (1999). Mild traumatic brain injury from motor vehicle accidents: factors associated with return to work. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 80(4), 392-398.
Margaret Davis

Margaret Davis is a junior studying advertising at Temple University. She is thrilled to be joining the HappyNeuron Pro team as the Content Marketing Intern. With her previous experience working on PR and Social Media campaigns, Margaret hopes to bring a variety of skills to the team.

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