Musculoskeletal Disorders Leading Cause of Worker Disability

Musculoskeletal disorders like back pain and arthritis are the number one cause of worker disability in the US, according to a new report from the Council for Disability Awareness (CDA).

Roughly one in three workers (34%) claiming social security benefits for disability suffered from musculoskeletal conditions, along with 30.7% of workers making private insurance claims.

The annual CDA report includes data from workers claiming Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and data from 19 major insurers who cover over 32 million Americans. The report shows a continuing growth in the prevalence of musculoskeletal conditions in American workers. Between 1960 and 2011, the number of people receiving SSDI for musculoskeletal conditions quadrupled.

Growing rates of MSK conditions are likely the result of an aging working population. In 2012, the percentage of older adults claiming disability benefits increased for both private insurers and social security. Now 57% of private insurance disability claimants are over the age of 50. Women also continue to make up a slight majority of claims, representing 54% of private insurance claimants.

Overall private insurers awarded $9.4 million to workers in 2012, up slightly from the previous year. Although the dollar amount has increased, the actual number of those seeking new claims decreased, reversing a four year upward trend. Insurers surveyed attributed the slower growth in claims to an improving economy. New claim applications and awards have also decreased for SSDI, but the number of people receiving social security has reached an all-time high of 8.8 million people or 5% of the US workforce.

The fact that musculoskeletal complaints are the number cause of worker disability may not come as huge surprise for many employees since some estimates say that up to 89% of office workers suffer from musculoskeletal conditions. And a global study published last year in The Lancet showed that musculoskeletal diseases were the second most common disability in the world.


The 2013 Council for Disability Awareness Long-term Disability Claims Review. Council for Disability Awareness. Accessed June 18, 2013.