The top causes of disability are more common than most people think. Can you guess all five?

5. Joint disorders

Joint disorders rank as the third leading cause of short-term disability and fifth among long-term disability. The prevalence of these types of claims can be linked to rising obesity rates, which trigger increases in knee and hip replacement surgery and exacerbates other conditions like arthritis, back injuries and joint pains.

“We’re seeing the effects of an aging workforce as people postpone retirement and work longer and later in life,” Breter said. “With advancing age, years of wear and tear on the joints take a toll.”

4. Back disorders

While short-term disability claims for back disorders have remained steady over the last decade, long-term disability claims for these conditions have decreased 14 percent. Dr. Edward Alvino, vice president and lead medical director at Unum, partly attributes this to the evolution of treatment.

“Patients used to be prescribed restricted activity and pain medication,” Alvino said. “Today, the health benefits of an active recovery are clear, and rehabilitation and exercise are critical pieces of a patient’s treatment plan.”

3. Injury

Commonly mistaken as the leading cause of disability, injuries are the number-2 cause of short- and long-term disability. Ninety percent of accidents and injuries occur off the job, which means workers are taking a big risk if they’re assuming workers’ comp will provide financial support if an injury occurs.

In addition to disability insurance, accident or hospital indemnity coverage can help supplement expenses for injuries that may result in a hospital visit.

2. Cancer

Cancer is a leading cause of both short- and long-term disability. It’s also one of the top five most costly diseases in the United States and can contribute to substantial absenteeism in the workforce.

Breast cancer is the most common malignant cancer among short-term disability claims, and although these claims have increased 10 percent over the last decade, early detection is leading to better outcomes.


1. Pregnancy

Short-term disability benefits enable working mothers to enjoy paid leave, and the large majority of short-term disability claims are maternity-related.

“We see firsthand the importance of this benefit to working women,” Breter said. “Short term disability coverage provides a new mom the financial security she needs so she can focus on her new baby, her recovery and returning to work.”

Long-term disability claims data show good news for moms and babies. The number of long term claims for complicated pregnancies has decreased nearly 48 percent over the last decade, thanks to fewer C-section deliveries, early detection and intervention in high-risk pregnancies, and access to more resources for new moms.

Each May for Disability Insurance Awareness Month, Unum releases its top causes of disability to shed a light on what causes one in four workers a career derailment.

“We want people to take seriously the importance of protecting their most critical asset: their income,” said Greg Breter, senior vice president of Benefits at Unum. “Millions of people experience disability each year, and if they don’t have disability insurance, they don’t get paid for that time away from work while they recover.”

The top causes of disability are more common than most people think. Click through the slideshow above to learn more about the top five reasons for disability leave, according to data from Unum.

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