Disability Determination: Validity With Occupational Low Back Pain

Raymond C. Tait, John T. Chibnall, Elena M. Andresen, Nortin M. Hadler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Disability determination for occupational low back pain challenges indemnification systems because spinal pathoanatomy is weakly related to pain intensity and functional capacity, making judgments of disability vulnerable to such confounding factors as sociodemographic variables (eg, race, socioeconomic status). To assess the contribution of impairment, race, and socioeconomic status to disability ratings and post settlement functional status, the current study investigated 580 African American and 892 white workers' compensation claimants with occupational low back pain who were surveyed an average of 21 months after claim settlement. Results indicated that diagnosis, surgery, and medical costs (indicators of impairment) were associated with disability ratings at the time of case settlement. African American race was negatively associated with disability ratings and also with diagnosis/surgery and medical costs. Disability ratings, however, correlated only weakly with post settlement status at 21-month follow-up. The association between race and disability ratings suggests that inequities operate in disability determination. Furthermore, the relative lack of association between disability ratings and postsettlement status raises questions about the validity of disability determination for workers' compensation claimants with low back pain. Perspective: Results demonstrated apparent racial/ethnic disparities in treatment and little association between disability ratings and post settlement status. Together, these results raise questions about social justice in the management of occupational back pain, as well as the validity of associated disability determination processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)951-957
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Pain
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Disability determination
  • back pain
  • outcomes
  • racial/ethnic disparities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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