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Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2006 Jan 15;31(2):219-25.

Work disability and costs caused by recurrence of low back pain: longer and more costly than in first episodes.

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Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, Center for Disability Research, Hopkinton, MA 01748, USA.



Retrospective analysis of workers' compensation (WC) claims data for nonspecific low back injuries (LBI) in a single jurisdiction.


To examine whether recurrences, defined as post-initial episodes of work disability or medical care, substantially contribute to total medical and indemnity costs, and total duration of work disability.


Previous studies have not measured the proportion of care seeking and work disability that are associated with recurrences in claims for work-related LBI.


All persons with new lost-time claims for nonspecific LBI reported in New Hampshire to a large WC provider from 1996 to 1999 were selected (N = 1867). Three years of follow-up data, starting at the beginning of the first episode, were collected. Previously validated definitions of recurrence were used identify new episodes of care and new episodes of lost work time (work disability). Total duration of work disability, total medical costs, and total indemnity costs were investigated. For individuals with recurrences, these variables were separated into first-episode and recurrent period duration and costs.


The rate of recurrent work disability was 17.2%, and the rate of recurrent care seeking was 33.9%. Individuals with recurrence had significantly higher total length of work disability, and higher medical and indemnity costs. For those with recurrent work disability, 69% of total lost time from work, 71% of associated indemnity costs, and 84% of total medical costs occurred during the recurrent period. For those with recurrence of care, the respective values were 48%, 47%, and 42%.


Recurrences contributed disproportionately to the total burden of work-related nonspecific LBI, through both additional care seeking and work disability. Results imply that those who have recurrences may be an especially important target for secondary prevention efforts.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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