Integrated Benefits Institute


Low Back Pain Takes Toll on Worker Health & Productivity, Integrated Benefits Institute Study Finds

Posted by Jacy Bryla

October 23, 2013 · 0 comments

San Francisco, CA – Oct. 23, 2013 – Back pain not only takes a toll on the quality of employees’ lives, but impacts their productivity at work as well. Nearly one in four employees report experiencing low-back pain costing employers $51,400 annually per 100 employees in lost productivity and medical treatments, according to the Integrated Benefits Institute. IBI is the leading workforce health and productivity research and measurement organization.

Lost work time and underperformance at work (presenteeism) due to low-back pain costs employers $34,600 per 100 workers. Employees with back pain are absent 4 more days per year than workers without back pain and have the equivalent of 4.4 more days of presenteeism annually. The cost of low work time and presenteeism comprise more than two-thirds of the total cost of low-back pain to employers.

The components of the $34,600 per 100 workers cost of low-back pain to employers are:

  • Sick days: $13,100
  • Presenteeism: $8,300
  • Short-term disability: $7,100
  • Long-term disability: $4,200
  • Workers compensation: $1,900

“Employers stand to benefit from understanding the extent of back pain in their workforce and helping employees prevent, treat and manage their pain,” said IBI president Tom Parry, PhD.

Back conditions typically don’t exist in isolation. Employees with low-back conditions also have an average of 4.9 other conditions that complicate care strategies. Those conditions with the most contribution to lost productivity are depression (29% of cases), chronic fatigue (41%) and obesity (8%).

Symptoms of low-back pain can be due to a variety of causes, including strain, injury, congenital conditions or serious medical problems, such as ruptured discs. Most back pain can be treated non-surgically with medications and physical therapy. Episodes of pain can be prevented with attention to proper techniques for sitting, working and exercising.

Good starting points for crafting strategies to manage the full costs of low-back conditions include:

  • Occupational therapy – Occupational therapy has been shown in a number of studies to reduce the duration of temporary disability from work.
  • Positive expectations – Employees with positive expectations about their recovery from acute back pain have shorter work absences than workers with negative expectations.
  • Counseling – Back pain sufferers may also benefit from counseling and mental health interventions.

Most cases of low back pain can be resolved in a relatively short time using low cost workplace-based interventions such as job accommodation.

“Assuming that all interventions offered are high quality, a cost-effective strategy is to use a stepped approach to treatment beginning with workplace-based interventions followed by more structured medical and vocational rehabilitation,” said Parry.

The research on low-back pain is part of the IBI’s Chronic Disease Profiles series that highlights the prevalence, full costs, co-morbidities and intervention approaches for key chronic health conditions. The full report may be accessed here at

About the Integrated Benefits Institute
The Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), an independent nonprofit membership organization, is the leading provider of health and productivity research, measurement and benchmarking. Founded in 1995, IBI provides members with data, research and tools to make sound decisions in how they invest in the health of their workforces. Its 840+ members include companies implementing health-related programs to benefit their employees and business, and providers of health and productivity services. Additional information about IBI may be found at

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