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Open Access Study protocol

Prediction of chronic disability in work-related musculoskeletal disorders: a prospective, population-based study

Judith A Turner1*, Gary Franklin23, Deborah Fulton-Kehoe2, Kathleen Egan2, Thomas M Wickizer4, James F Lymp5, Lianne Sheppard26 and Joel D Kaufman2

Author Affiliations

1 Departments of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Box 356560, Seattle, WA, 98195-6560, USA

2 Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Box 358772, Seattle, WA, 98195, USA

3 Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, P.O. Box 44321, Olympia, WA, 98504, USA

4 Department of Health Services, University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Seattle, WA, 98195, USA

5 Division of Biostatistics, Mayo Clinic, 200 First St. SW, Rochester, MN, 55905, USA

6 Department of Biostatistics, University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Seattle, WA, 98195-7232, USA

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2004, 5:14  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-5-14

Published: 24 May 2004



Disability associated with work-related musculoskeletal disorders is an increasingly serious societal problem. Although most injured workers return quickly to work, a substantial number do not. The costs of chronic disability to the injured worker, his or her family, employers, and society are enormous. A means of accurate early identification of injured workers at risk for chronic disability could enable these individuals to be targeted for early intervention to promote return to work and normal functioning. The purpose of this study is to develop statistical models that accurately predict chronic work disability from data obtained from administrative databases and worker interviews soon after a work injury. Based on these models, we will develop a brief instrument that could be administered in medical or workers' compensation settings to screen injured workers for chronic disability risk.


This is a population-based, prospective study. The study population consists of workers who file claims for work-related back injuries or carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) in Washington State. The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries claims database is reviewed weekly to identify workers with new claims for work-related back injuries and CTS, and these workers are telephoned and invited to participate. Workers who enroll complete a computer-assisted telephone interview at baseline and one year later. The baseline interview assesses sociodemographic, employment-related, biomedical/health care, legal, and psychosocial risk factors. The follow-up interview assesses pain, disability, and work status. The primary outcome is duration of work disability over the year after claim submission, as assessed by administrative data. Secondary outcomes include work disability status at one year, as assessed by both self-report and work disability compensation status (administrative records). A sample size of 1,800 workers with back injuries and 1,200 with CTS will provide adequate statistical power (0.96 for low back and 0.85 for CTS) to predict disability with an alpha of .05 (two-sided) and a hazard ratio of 1.2. Proportional hazards regression models will be constructed to determine the best combination of predictors of work disability duration at one year. Regression models will also be developed for the secondary outcomes.