The Influence of Unemployment and Disability Status on Clinical Outcomes in Patients Receiving Surgery for Low Back-Related Disorders: An Observational Study.

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Employment status plays an essential role as a social determinant of health. Unemployed are more likely to have a longer length of hospital stay and a nearly twofold greater rate of 30 day readmission than those who were well employed at the time of back surgery. This study aimed to investigate whether employment status influenced post-surgery outcomes and if so, the differences were clinically meaningful among groups.


This retrospective observational study used data from the Quality Outcomes Database Lumbar Registry. Data refinement was used to isolate individuals 18 to 64 who received primary spine surgeries and had a designation of employed, unemployed, or disabled. Outcomes included 12 and 24 month back and leg pain, disability, patient satisfaction, and quality of life. Differences in descriptive variables, comorbidities, and outcomes measures (at 12 and 24 months) were analyzed using chi-square and linear mixed-effects modeling. When differences were present among groups, we evaluated whether they were clinically significant or not.


Differences (between employed, unemployed, and disabled) among baseline characteristics and comorbidities were present in nearly every category (p<0.01). In all cases, those who were disabled represented the least healthy, followed by unemployed, and then employed. Clinically meaningful differences for all outcomes were present at 12 and 24 months (p<0.01). In post hoc analyses, differences between each group at nearly all periods were found.


The findings support that the health-related characteristics are markedly different among employment status groups. Group designation strongly differentiated outcomes. These findings suggest that disability and unemployment should be considered when determining prognosis of the individual.





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Cook, Chad E, Alessandra N Garcia, Christopher Shaffrey and Oren Gottfried (2021). The Influence of Unemployment and Disability Status on Clinical Outcomes in Patients Receiving Surgery for Low Back-Related Disorders: An Observational Study. Spine surgery and related research, 5(3). pp. 182–188. 10.22603/ssrr.2020-0156 Retrieved from

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Chad E. Cook

Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery

Dr. Cook is a clinical researcher, physical therapist, and profession advocate with a long-term history of clinical care excellence and service. His passions include refining and improving the patient examination process and validating tools used in day-to-day physical therapist practice. Dr. Cook has authored or co-authored 3 textbooks, has published over 315 peer reviewed manuscripts and lectures internationally on orthopedic examination and treatment.


Christopher Ignatius Shaffrey

Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery

I have more than 25 years of experience treating patients of all ages with spinal disorders. I have had an interest in the management of spinal disorders since starting my medical education. I performed residencies in both orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery to gain a comprehensive understanding of the entire range of spinal disorders. My goal has been to find innovative ways to manage the range of spinal conditions, straightforward to complex. I have a focus on managing patients with complex spinal disorders. My patient evaluation and management philosophy is to provide engaged, compassionate care that focuses on providing the simplest and least aggressive treatment option for a particular condition. In many cases, non-operative treatment options exist to improve a patient’s symptoms. I have been actively engaged in clinical research to find the best ways to manage spinal disorders in order to achieve better results with fewer complications.


Oren N Gottfried

Professor of Neurosurgery

I specialize in the surgical management of all complex cervical, thoracic, lumbar, or sacral spinal diseases by using minimally invasive as well as standard approaches for arthritis or degenerative disease, deformity, tumors, and trauma. I have a special interest in the treatment of thoracolumbar deformities, occipital-cervical problems, and in helping patients with complex spinal issues from previously unsuccessful surgery or recurrent disease.I listen to my patients to understand their symptoms and experiences so I can provide them with the information and education they need to manage their disease. I make sure my patients understand their treatment options, and what will work best for their individual condition. I treat all my patients with care and concern – just as I would treat my family. I am available to address my patients' concerns before and after surgery.  I aim to improve surgical outcomes for my patients and care of all spine patients with active research evaluating clinical and radiological results after spine surgery with multiple prospective databases. I am particularly interested in prevention of spinal deformity, infections, complications, and recurrent spinal disease. Also, I study whether patient specific variables including pelvic/sacral anatomy and sagittal spinal balance predict complications from spine surgery.

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