For U.S. workers, musculoskeletal issues on the rise

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (May 12, 2020) – For U.S. workers, musculoskeletal issues are a bigger driver of long-term absence from work today than ever before. According to data from Unum (NYSE: UNM), long term disability claims for these conditions rose 40% over the last decade. The problem is even more pronounced in men, where these claims rose 62% since 2010.

According to the World Health Organization, one in two adult Americans live with a musculoskeletal condition – the same number as those with cardiovascular or chronic respiratory diseases combined. The cost of treatment and lost wages related to these conditions is estimated at $213 billion per year. For employers, the estimated cost is $103,000 annually. According to experts at Unum, there are a mix of factors that can cause musculoskeletal problems in workers.

“We often see these issues among workers who have jobs that require heavy lifting, repetitive motion, or prolonged sitting,” said Marcy Ledford, director of health and productivity at Unum. “Aging can also be a factor, as well as lower activity levels, obesity, or co-morbid conditions.”

According to Ledford, there are some best practices for employers to help prevent or reduce the frequency or duration of these kinds of claims among their employees.

  • Underpin the importance of workplace ergonomics in corporate health and wellness programs.
  • Provide incentives or reimbursements for employees who use weight loss programs or regularly go to the gym.
  • Implement a formal transitional return-to-work strategy that allows a gradual transition to full duty for workers returning from disability.
  • Use flexible work arrangements, part-time work, flexible schedules or job-sharing tactics as aids to help workers return from disability.
  • Explore disability policy options that may financially assist with or reimburse for worksite modifications made for an employee with these conditions.

The Social Security Administration estimates that one in four of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67. 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 during Disability Insurance Awareness Month. Cancer remains the leading cause of long term disability, followed by injury, back disorders, cardiovascular issues, and musculoskeletal conditions.

In 2019, Unum in the U.S. received 503,000 new disability claims, paid $3.7 billion in disability benefits, and helped 275,000 people return to work. The company also helped employers save nearly 99,500 lost workdays.

About Unum Group

Unum (NYSE: UNM), an international provider of workplace benefits and services, has been helping workers and their families for more than 170 years. Through its Unum and Colonial Life brands, the company offers disability, life, accident, critical illness, dental, vision and stop-loss insurance; leave and absence management support and behavioral health services. In 2021, Unum reported revenues of $12.0 billion and paid $8.2 billion in benefits. The Fortune 500 company is one of the 2022 World’s Most Ethical Companies, recognized by Ethisphere®.


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