July 20, 2007 / 8:28 PM / 12 years ago

Workplace factors predict long-term disability risk

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Along with treatment severity, other factors help predict whether a person who files a disability claim for carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) will be out of work long-term, a new study shows.

The strongest predictor of whether or not a person was able to return to work was his or her expectation of recovery; those who declined to rate their expectations were more than four times as likely as those with high expectations of recovery to be disabled long-term, while those who had low expectations had three times the risk of chronic disability.

Workers whose employers didn’t offer them job accommodations for their disability were twice as likely to be out of work for 180 days or longer compared with their peers whose employers did make such accommodations, Dr. Judith A. Turner of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and her colleagues report in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

To find out if there were certain predictors that could help identify workers who would require long-term disability following a CTS diagnosis, the researchers reviewed Washington state disability claims from July 2002 to May 2004.

Of the 899 people with CTS claims included in the study sample, 22 percent wound up being out of work for 180 days or longer. The researchers interviewed the workers an average of 18 days after they had filed their claims.

Workers who reported the highest level of functional disability soon after filing their claim were nearly four times as likely to require long-term disability leave, the researchers found, and those with heavy physical job demands were more than three times as likely as those with sedentary jobs to be out of work long-term.

Past research has also shown that an employer’s willingness to accommodate employee needs is key to whether a worker will return to a job, Turner and her colleagues note.

“This suggests that interventions for individuals with work-related CTS should include not only medical or surgical therapies, but also collaboration with the employer to offer job accommodations such as reduced work hours, limiting of physical tasks involving the upper extremity, and equipment alterations,” they write.

“However, a challenge will be how to address situations where the employer does not offer job accommodations.”

SOURCE: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, July 2007.

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