Top 10 causes of disability
Unum’s 10-year review of disability claims shows the top 1­0 causes of short- and long-term disability. The disability provider’s data also reflects the effects of an aging workforce, medical advances and the power of early intervention.

Disability benefits protect employees in the event of illness or injury, which can cause financial hardship for many individuals and their families. They are also a critical part of a benefits portfolio for any employer looking to offer a competitive package and help offset the rising costs of healthcare.

Unum received more than 424,500 new disability claims in 2017 and paid $3.8 billion in disability benefits. Here are the top reasons for both long- and short-term claims.
Long term: Cancer
Cancer has been the leading cause of long-term disability for over a decade. It’s also one of the top five most costly diseases in the United States and can contribute to substantial absenteeism in the workforce. More than half (57%) of these claims come from baby boomers.
Long term: Back disorders
Back disorders can be chronic. Years of wear and tear can cause problems with the nerves and spine, as well as degenerative discs. Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis as well as conditions like osteoarthritis are also common in these claims.
Man worker with back injury, concept of accident at work
Long term: Injury
Commonly assumed to be the leading cause, injury falls third in the list of long-term causes and second in the list of short-term causes of disability. Accident insurance can help supplement expenses for common injuries.
Long term: Cardiovascular
Heart issues are prevalent across the U.S., with heart disease being the No. 1 cause of death, according to the American Heart Association, and the No. 4 cause of long-term disability.

“Recovering from an illness such as a heart attack or stroke can result in significant medical expense, but non-medical expenses can also quickly add up,” says Greg Breter, senior vice president of benefits at Unum. “Benefits from disability, paired with critical illness insurance, can provide critical financial support and relieve stress and worry so an individual can concentrate on getting better.”
Long term: Joint disorders
Short and long-term disability claims for joint disorders and musculoskeletal issues have increased significantly over the past 10 years. “As people work longer and later in life, we’re seeing the effects of an aging workforce,” Breter says. “With advancing age, natural wear and tear on the body begins to take its toll.”
Short term: Pregnancy
Pregnancy claims continue to top short-term causes, as short-term disability is most commonly used to support new moms during their time away from work recovering from child birth.

“While this coverage can provide substantial financial support for young families, the reality is most working women aren’t protected by short-term disability coverage,” Breter says. “This can leave them exposed to financial risk as they step away from work to bond with and care for their newborn.”
Short term: Injury (excluding back)
Ninety percent of accidents and injuries occur off the job, meaning workers’ compensation will not help employees meet their financial needs. Short-term disability helps pay a percentage of an employees’ income when they are not able to work due to injury.
Short term: Joint disorders
A top cause for both long-term and short-term disability, the prevalence of these types of claims can also be linked to obesity, which is a top health concern in the U.S. Research is showing that obesity is contributing to a dramatic increase in knee replacement surgery and exacerbates other conditions like arthritis, back injuries and joint pain.
Short term: Digestive system
Problems with the kidneys, liver, esophagus or digestive tract appear in short-term disability claims. Fortunately, a relatively low percentage of digestive system claims transition to long-term disability.
Short term: Cancer
Cancer is a leading cause of both short and long-term disability. Breast cancer is the No. 1 type of malignant cancer among short-term disability claims, followed by cancer of the genitourinary organs, then digestive system. As with any cancer, early detection is critical.