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Out Of Joint: The Hartford's Research Shows Aching Backs, Worn-out Knees, Painful Feet Keep Many Off The Job

Posted on 01 Sep 10

Every day Americans rely on their bones and muscles for strength, energy and mobility to help them get their job done. But research by The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. shows workers' framework is showing wear and tear.

Nearly one in four employees on a short-term disability claim were unable to work due to a disabling illness impacting their skeleton or muscles, specifically backs, knees and feet, according to an analysis of nearly 750,000 short-term disability claims by the leading U.S. seller of group disability insurance.

"Many of us have had an aching back or stiff joints at some point in our lives. But, workers might not realize how their paychecks could be at risk due to these pain points," said Ron Gendreau, executive vice president of The Hartford's Group Benefits Division. "We hope to raise awareness now, during Disability Insurance Awareness Month, about the importance of taking steps to protect the foundation of your physical and financial well-being. Disability insurance is the foundation of your financial security."

Additionally, The Hartford's analysis of musculoskeletal claims found:

• Employees who were age 50 and older accounted for 40 percent of back and spine claims.
• Men had more claims due to back and spine disabilities than women, 30 percent and 20 percent respectively.
• Ankle and foot conditions, such as bunions and hammertoes, were more common among women than men.
• One in four claims was due to worn-out spinal discs.
• One in five claims was due to knee problems related to arthritis or worn-out cartilage.

"These wear-and-tear claims reflect the trend of the aging of the American workforce," he added.

Financial Setback

The average length of time that an employee was out of work due to a musculoskeletal disorder is approximately 10 weeks, according to The Hartford's claims analysis. "That time takes into account the medical treatment of a disabling illness, including surgery, as well as recovery," Gendreau explained. "Many families would be financially debilitated if they went without a source of income for 10 weeks."

In fact, The Hartford's 2010 Benefit Landscape Study found that 95 percent of workers said they would need to make lifestyle changes if they lost part of their families' income for three to six months. Yet, only 55 percent of workers have short-term disability insurance and only 47 percent have long-term disability insurance, according to the survey.

"We're happy to see a slight increase in the number of workers saying they have paycheck protection this year, compared to last year's survey. But, there remains a high number of Americans who are putting their family finances at risk," he said.

Gendreau offered employees these tips on how to help boost their financial fitness:

• Use your noggin. You can calculate your chance of becoming disabled - your personal disability quotient (PDQ) - by visiting
• Protect your core. An emergency savings fund, equivalent to three to six months of income, can help you weather financial storms.
• Bone up on your benefits. Check with your employer to whether your benefits package has an Employee Assistance Program that offers emotional, legal and financial support, as well as disability insurance that will help you get back to work after a disability.

Also, Gendreau gave these tips on how employers can help protect the backbone of their business:

• Encourage sedentary workers to take breaks, stand up and walk. Sitting for long periods of time strains the lower back, which could exacerbate an existing condition.
• Hold a health fair featuring fitness and wellness vendors, such as a dietician.
• Publicize fitness events in your community, such as a charity walk.
• Offer healthy food choices in vending machines.

Back in Action

The Hartford's Ability Philosophy and medical professionals help get workers back in action after a disabling injury or illness and help employers see a quick return to productivity, Gendreau said. "Nurses are a worker's first point of contact. They can tackle tough medical situations and find solutions to benefit both the employee and employer," he said. "And our team of return-to-work coordinators helps facilitate workers' safe return to the workplace."

You can read more about how aching backs, worn-out knees and painful feet impact workers' productivity by checking out the blog on The Hartford's Productivity Lab.