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Keywords:

  • low back pain;
  • disability evaluation;
  • workers' compensation;
  • back injuries;
  • occupational medicine

Abstract

Background

Medico-legal models of disability determination for low back pain lack empirical support. Besides diagnostic and functional parameters, social and situational factors may influence impairment/disability ratings and costs.

Methods

Archival data from employer-retained occupational medicine physician files and public court records were examined for 184 Workers' Compensation claimants with low back injuries. Regression was used to predict ratings, costs, and settlement duration from medical, functional, social, and situational variables.

Results

Diagnosis, surgery, pain, rating year, and clinic predicted impairment ratings from employer-retained physicians. The clinic effect partially reflected claimant ethnicity. Diagnosis, surgery, tests ordered, legal representation, and impairment rating predicted disability ratings at the administrative law judge level. Diagnosis, tests, and impairment rating predicted costs. For musculoskeletal diagnoses, settlement duration was related negatively to treatment duration and positively to costs.

Conclusions

Social and situational parameters influence disability management among employer-retained physicians, while functional variables have little impact. For musculoskeletal low back pain, increased disability and cost may result from variation in treatment duration. Am. J. Ind. Med. 38:529–538, 2000. © 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.