Abstract

Scientific findings have indicated that psychological and social factors are the driving forces behind most chronic benign pain presentations, especially in a claim context, and are relevant to at least three of the AMA Guides publications: AMA Guides to Evaluation of Disease and Injury Causation, AMA Guides to Work Ability and Return to Work, and AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. The author reviews and summarizes studies that have identified the dominant role of financial, psychological, and other non–general medicine factors in patients who report low back pain. For example, one meta-analysis found that compensation results in an increase in pain perception and a reduction in the ability to benefit from medical and psychological treatment. Other studies have found a correlation between the level of compensation and health outcomes (greater compensation is associated with worse outcomes), and legal systems that discourage compensation for pain produce better health outcomes. One study found that, among persons with carpal tunnel syndrome, claimants had worse outcomes than nonclaimants despite receiving more treatment; another examined the problematic relationship between complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and compensation and found that cases of CRPS are dominated by legal claims, a disparity that highlights the dominant role of compensation. Workers’ compensation claimants are almost never evaluated for personality disorders or mental illness. The article concludes with recommendations that evaluators can consider in individual cases.

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