Is Occupational Low Back Pain on the Rise?

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Abstract

Study Design.

A retrospective analysis of back pain claim data from two sources, a workers' compensation provider and Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. The Workers' Compensation Provider claim data were examined over a 9-year period, 1987-1995, and the Washington claim data were examined over a 5-year period, 1991-1995. In addition, a third source of data, reports of back pain from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was examined over a 4-year period, 1992-1995.

Objectives.

To characterize occupational low back pain trends in the United States. More specifically, trends in back pain rates and costs as well as back injury rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics were discerned.

Summary of Background Data.

The literature often refers to a recent rise in occupational low back pain. However, the question is: Do empirical data support this notion?

Methods.

Retrospective analysis of workers' compensation provider, Washington State, and Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Results.

The U.S. estimate of the annual low back pain claim rate decreased 34% between 1987 and 1995, although the trend was not monotonic. There was a sharper decrease in the U.S. estimate of the annual low back pain claim costs during this time (58%). In 1995, however, occupational low back pain remained a major problem in the U.S.: an estimated $8.8 billion was spent on low back pain claims, and the rate of filing low back pain claims was 1.8 per 100 workers.

Conclusions.

Evidence of a rise in occupational low back pain was not discerned for the 8-year period studied. Data from three sources support this finding. However, occupational back pain remains a major problem in the U.S.

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