AOHC: Availability of Modified Duty, Pain Coping Ability, Predictors of Disability

While a small percentage of workers with occupational low back pain end up disabled, they represent the majority of total cost for the condition. What can employers and occupational health professionals do to limit the risk of disability from low back pain?

According to research presented today at the American Occupational Health Conference in Atlanta, there are risk factors associated with disability, but you might be surprised what they are.

Dr. Glenn Pransky, M.D., M.Occ.H., of the Liberty Mutual Center for Disability Research, and a group of researchers surveyed 557 patients suffering from recent onset of low back pain and asked about demographic, injury, workplace, psychosocial and symptom factors. In addition, researchers examined symptoms and initial prognosis.

"Function and return to work were more strongly predicted by employer factors job tenure, employer size, availability of modified duty and delay in notifying employer and self-ratings of pain, mood and physicality of work than by health history or physical exam," said Pransky.

In other words, he noted, targeted intervention for workers at high risk of disability due to low back pain should focus on job factors and pain coping strategies.

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