Do you or someone close to you, a patient, or an employee have cervical radiculopathy and are wondering if it’s possible to work despite the pain and discomfort associated with this musculoskeletal disorder?
In this article, I share my experience as a physiotherapist on this subject. I have also researched the available data on the frequency of work absences due to cervical radiculopathy, the average duration, disability rates, compensation, etc.
At the end of the article, you will find references to the studies and administrative documents I rely on.
Enjoy the read! I’m available in the comments for any remarks or questions🙂.
Last update: August 2023
Can you sometimes work with cervical radiculopathy?
It is often possible to work with cervical radiculopathy, whether in the acute phase (right after diagnosis) or in the chronic phase.
Why is it often possible to work despite cervical radiculopathy and pain? There are at least four reasons for this:
- Working does not necessarily increase the pain or other symptoms.
- Completely stopping work does not necessarily improve the symptoms.
- Continuing to work (with appropriate adjustments if needed) can help maintain a higher level of activity, which is beneficial for cervical brachial neuralgia (and generally for any chronic pain condition).
- Engaging in work allows the person to focus on something other than the problems they are experiencing.
Now, let’s look at some criteria that can help determine whether one can work with cervical radiculopathy.
Percentage of people on work leave due to cervical radiculopathy
🇸🇪 Swedish study mentioned that 37% of people who undergo surgery for cervical radiculopathy in their hospital were on work leave before the operation.
That’s more than 1 in 3 people in the chronic phase of cervical radiculopathy.
It is likely that this percentage is much lower in the general population since those who undergo surgery are often the ones experiencing the most severe symptoms.
Source: Peolsson 2022
How to know if you can work despite cervical radiculopathy?
Here are the questions you should ask yourself to determine if continuing to work is feasible with your condition:
|Are your pains significantly increased while working (compared to when you are at home or on your days off), to the point of requiring painkillers that you don’t take on non-working days?||Temporary leave or work adjustments may be relevant if you answer yes to both questions.|
|Are there important tasks for your safety or job performance that you cannot perform due to the radiculopathy?||Temporary leave or work adjustments may be relevant if you answer yes to this question.|
|Are you uncomfortable and in pain at work, and there is no way to adapt your tasks?||Temporary leave may be relevant if you answer yes to this question.|
|Do you experience occasional pain and discomfort during the day related to the disease, but you manage well by changing positions or activities?||Work leave does not seem necessary in this case.|
As you can see, there are no very specific criteria that determine whether work leave is appropriate or not. This applies to cervical radiculopathy as well as any other health problem.
Factors that make some people continue working
An Australian 🇦🇺 study investigated whether certain factors influenced some individuals to continue working despite having cervical radiculopathy, while others did not. The study focused on individuals who had decided to undergo surgery for their radiculopathy.
Here are the factors that are more commonly found among people with cervical radiculopathy who continue to work:
- Greater ability to take care of themselves independently.
- Lower physical strain on the neck during work.
- Higher self-reported likelihood of being able to work within six months.
- Greater use of active adaptation strategies.
- Lower frequency of hand weakness.
- Better health-related quality of life.
Source: Ng 2015
What is the usual duration of work leave for cervical radiculopathy?
Similar to the absence of specific criteria guaranteeing the relevance of work leave, there is no standard duration for work leave in cases of cervical radiculopathy. The appropriate duration depends primarily on the severity of your symptoms and their impact on your professional activity, as well as the possibility of adapting your job or having a part-time therapeutic arrangement.
In France, the Health Insurance does provide reference guidelines indicating the suggested duration of work leave for various illnesses, musculoskeletal disorders, and surgeries. There is a reference guideline for cervical radiculopathy, classified under the category of spinal pain.
The document was last updated in 2015. Here are the details of the indicated work leave durations.
- In the absence of surgery, the work leave duration for cervical radiculopathy ranges from 0 to 15 days for sedentary work. It can extend up to 42 days for work requiring prolonged standing and heavy lifting.
- In the case of surgical treatment for cervical radiculopathy (such as cervical disc herniation excision), the work leave duration is typically from 42 to 112 days.
Is cervical radiculopathy included in the list of work-related diseases?
The answer to this question depends on the country you live and work in. Here are responses for the two countries where most of my readers are from: France and the United States.
🇫🇷 In France
In France, certain diseases can be recognized as occupational diseases. This recognition is specified in legal texts published in the Official Journal.
The National Institute for Research and Safety (Institut national de recherche et de sécurité: INRS) compiles a table listing all occupational diseases.
However, cervical radiculopathy is not listed in the table of occupational diseases.
On the other hand, some musculoskeletal disorders sometimes associated with cervical radiculopathy are included in the table of occupational diseases. For example, certain tendon pathologies (tendinitis) or sciatica due to lumbar disc herniation (L5 S1) are covered.
But you can still be recognized as a disabled worker or receive a disability pension. This is only applicable to a minority of individuals for whom cervical brachial neuralgia has significant and long-lasting consequences.
🇺🇲 In the United States
In the United States, there are lists of occupational diseases that vary by state. Each state has its own workers’ compensation system and maintains a list of covered occupational diseases. These are illnesses or conditions that are considered to be caused or aggravated by the work environment or work-related activities.
Cervical radiculopathy is not typically included in the specific list of occupational diseases in the United States. However, if a person’s cervical radiculopathy is determined to be work-related, they may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits under their state’s laws.
If you are unable to find information on your own regarding workers’ compensation benefits, occupational diseases, or the eligibility criteria in your state, it is advisable to consult with an attorney or seek guidance from your state’s Workers’ Compensation Board or Commission.
What is the compensation & disbility rate for cervical radiculopathy?
🇫🇷 In France
You may receive various compensations in case of sick leave or disability due to your cervical radiculopathy.
The amount and terms of these compensations are not related to the type of disease you are diagnosed with but rather to its impact on your ability to work.
Compensation for cervical radiculopathy is the same as for any other illness. It will depend on your status, family situation, and many other factors.
These compensations may include daily allowances from health insurance, compensation for temporary disability, disability benefits for adults, etc.
The calculation of disability rates does not depend on the specific disease or health issue but rather on its impact on your daily life.
That’s why there is no standard disability rate for individuals suffering from cervical radiculopathy.
- Some individuals may never experience disability or work leave due to this condition,
- while others may be classified with a disability rate of 30%, 50%, or even higher (often due to the association of cervical brachial neuralgia with other health problems).
However, it is rare for cervical radiculopathy to result in a disability rate, and even rarer for it to be high.
🇺🇲 Cervical radiculopathy disability rating in the United States
When an individual experiences cervical radiculopathy that affects their ability to work or perform daily activities, they may be eligible for disability benefits. The disability rating is used to determine the level of impairment and the extent to which the condition affects the person’s ability to function.
Disability ratings are typically assigned by medical professionals or state agencies based on various factors, including medical documentation, diagnostic tests, and functional assessments. These ratings can play a crucial role in determining eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.
The disability rating process can be complex, involving medical examinations, medical records review, and functional assessments. And disability rating criteria and benefits vary by state and program.
Disability ratings range from 0% to 100%, with higher percentages indicating more severe disabilities. For cervical radiculopathy, the rating can vary a lot based on the extent of nerve involvement, sensory and motor impairments, and the impact on the individual’s overall functional capacity.
VA ratings for cervical radiculopathy
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides disability ratings to veterans who have service-connected medical conditions, including cervical radiculopathy.
The VA uses the “VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities” to evaluate and assign disability ratings for various medical conditions, including cervical radiculopathy.
For the most accurate and up-to-date information on VA ratings for cervical radiculopathy, it is recommended to consult official VA resources or reach out to a VA representative or a veterans service organization (VSO) for assistance with your case!
Cervical radiculopathy workers’ compensation settlement
When an employee suffers from cervical radiculopathy due to job-related activities, they may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The settlement negotiation process involves determining:
- the extent of the worker’s disability,
- the impact of the condition on their ability to work,
- and the long-term consequences of the injury.
The amount of the settlement can vary based on the severity of the condition, the duration of disability, and the specific workers’ compensation laws in the relevant jurisdiction.
Is cervical radiculopathy a disability?
There is no finite list of conditions or impairments that fall under the term “disability.” Disability is a broad and diverse concept that encompasses a wide range of physical, cognitive, sensory, and mental health conditions. It is not limited to specific medical diagnoses, but rather focuses on the impact of an individual’s impairments on their ability to function in various aspects of life.
The collective definition of “disability” for cervical radiculopathy, as well as the individual perception of it, can be influenced by various factors, including societal views, cultural norms, and the specific context in which the condition is experienced.
For some individuals with cervical radiculopathy, the symptoms and limitations may significantly impact their daily life and ability to work, leading them and others to consider it a form of disability. On the other hand, some individuals may experience milder symptoms or have effective coping mechanisms that allow them to manage their condition without considering it a disability.
In my physiotherapy practice, I have encountered both extremes.
There was a young woman in her twenties who, due to cervical radiculopathy, was using an electric wheelchair. She had a chronic disability pension. However, she also had a manic-depressive syndrome and believed that it had an impact on her physical health and her ability to cope with pain and discomfort.
On the other hand, I have also seen examples of nursing colleagues who continued to work despite having cervical radiculopathy. They would sometimes come to work with a cervical collar, but the discomfort had very little impact on their ability to perform their duties.
If you feel the need to learn more about the recovery period after a cervical radiculopathy, I wrote this guide in eBook format:
Here’s what I wanted to tell you about this! I wish you a very good recovery! Do you have any comments or questions? Your comments are welcome 🙂 !
You may also like:
Peolsson A, Wibault J, Löfgren H, Dedering Å, Öberg B, Zsigmond P, Wåhlin C. Work Ability After Anterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion Followed by a Structured Postoperative Rehabilitation: Secondary Outcomes of a Prospective Randomized Controlled Multi-Centre Trial with a 2-year Follow-up. J Occup Rehabil. 2022 Sep;32(3):473-482. doi: 10.1007/s10926-021-10015-6. Epub 2021 Dec 11. PMID: 34894316; PMCID: PMC9576644.
Ng E, Johnston V, Wibault J, Löfgren H, Dedering Å, Öberg B, Zsigmond P, Peolsson A. Factors Associated With Work Ability in Patients Undergoing Surgery for Cervical Radiculopathy. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2015 Aug 15;40(16):1270-6. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000001010. PMID: 26076434.
Inrs : tableau des maladies professionnelles (France)
By Nelly Darbois
I love to write articles that are based on my experience as a physiotherapist and extensive research in the international scientific literature.
I live in the French Alps 🌞❄️ where I work as a physiotherapist and scientific editor for my own website, where you are.