Soft-tissue injuries are associated with increased health-care visits

In brief

The economic burden of work-related musculoskeletal disorders may be greater than current estimates because, as this study suggests, injured workers show an ongoing pattern of symptoms, both before their claim and following their return to work.

Published: January 2006

Why was this study done?

Work-related injuries of soft tissues such as muscles, tendons or nerves – also known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – account for approximately half of all compensation claims within Canada, and they result in a significant financial burden. Because work-related MSDs generally develop over time, health-care use identified only during the period of work disability may not entirely represent the magnitude of the problem. The purpose of this study was to determine if work-related MSDs are associated with increased health-care use both before and after the period of workers’ compensation benefits.

How was the study done?

Researchers linked pre-existing employee records, workers’ compensation claims data and provincial health-care billing records from 5,029 hospital workers between 1987 and 1997. Hospital workers were studied due to the high number of claims in that sector. The researchers compared the patterns of health-care use between two groups of injured and uninjured hospital workers.

What did the researchers find?

Hospital workers with MSDs had significantly higher rates of health-care use, both before and after their claim date, compared with colleagues who were not injured. For example, those who had claims had an estimated 49 per cent increase in health-care visits in the year before the claim.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

The use of linked medical data provides a rich source of information to investigate patterns of health-care use over a long follow-up period and for large numbers of workers. However, one major limitation was that the data did not have diagnoses codes, which researchers could have used to investigate reasons why injured workers had a higher number of health-care visits.