CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (May 2, 2019) – Carl Murphy was sidelined from his 17-year career in the trucking industry after surgery for chronic back pain. He was able to rely on his disability benefits but was unsure of his professional future. In 2018, back disorders – like Murphy’s - were the third leading cause of long term disability, according to data from Unum (NYSE: UNM), the world’s leading provider of disability benefits.
“I wore myself out after 17 years of bending, lifting and twisting,” Murphy said, whose years of wear and tear caused degenerative discs and problems with his nerves and spine. “I wanted to get back to work. I missed being busy.”
While short term disability claims for back disorders have remained steady over the last decade, long term disability claims for these conditions have decreased 14 percent. Dr. Edward Alvino, vice president and lead medical director at Unum, partly attributes this to the evolution of treatment.
“Patients used to be prescribed restricted activity and pain medication,” Alvino said. “Today, the health benefits of an active recovery are clear, and rehabilitation and exercise are critical pieces of a patient’s treatment plan.”
Another key to recovery for people suffering from back disorders and other illnesses or injuries is a transitional return-to-work plan, which allows employees to scale up their work capacity as their condition improves through reduced or flexible hours.
“Many people recovering from disability want to get back to work as soon as possible,” said Marcy Ledford, director of Workforce Solutions at Unum. “But for some conditions, a transitional return-to-work plan and proper workplace accommodations can improve the chances of the employee’s long-term success staying at work.”
When returning to the same job isn’t an option, Unum rehabilitation specialists help people like Murphy return to work in a way that’s best for their future.
“I realized if I returned to my previous profession, which required a lot of manual labor, it would just be a matter of time before my back gave out again,” Murphy said. “But my vocational rehabilitation specialist at Unum helped me put my past U.S. Marine Corps experience to use, and now I work full-time overseeing security for one of the area’s leading hospitals.”
The Social Security Administration estimates that one in four of today’s workers will be disabled before they reach retirement. Disability insurance not only provides a financial benefit for people who are ill or injured and can’t work, it also provides support as people recover and return to work.
Unum tracks the reasons behind disability and shares the results each May, Disability Insurance Awareness Month. Here are the top causes of disability for 2018:
Long term disability:
Back disorders 13%
Cardiovascular issues 10%
Joint disorders 10%
Short term disability:
Injury (excluding back) 11%
Joint disorders 8%
Digestive system 6%
In 2018, Unum in the U.S. received 458,800 new disability claims, paid $3.7 billion in disability benefits, and helped 251,000 people return to work. The company also helped employers save nearly 69,000 lost workdays and $32 million through transitional return-to-work efforts for covered employees.