What are examples of temporary disability?

Temporary disability refers to a medical condition or injury that prevents someone from working for a limited period of time. There are many possible causes of temporary disability that can affect a person’s ability to work. In this article, we will explore some common examples of conditions that may lead to temporary disability status.

Short-Term Illnesses

One of the most common causes of temporary disability is a short-term illness such as the flu or a bad cold. While these types of illnesses are usually minor, they can cause symptoms like fever, body aches, coughing, and fatigue that make it difficult or impossible to work during the duration of the illness. Depending on the severity, a case of the flu may render someone temporarily disabled for a period of days or weeks until the symptoms subside and they regain strength and energy.

Minor Injuries

Sprains, strains, and other minor injuries that may require immobilization can also lead to temporary disability. An ankle sprain, wrist sprain, or knee sprain that requires bracing or casting could limit someone’s mobility and ability to perform job duties for a period of recovery. Similarly, minor fractures, cuts or lacerations that require stitches, and burns might also qualify someone for temporary disability, especially if their job involves physical labor and they cannot work while injured.

Back Injuries

Back injuries are a very common cause of temporary disability. It is estimated that up to 80% of adults experience back pain at some point in their lives. Back injuries such as herniated discs, pinched nerves, sprains and strains, and sciatica often require rest and restricted activity during recovery. Depending on the type and severity of the injury, recovery may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. If a back injury impairs your ability to lift, bend, walk, or sit for extended periods, it can make it impossible to work temporarily.

Surgery Recovery

Recovering from surgery can also lead to temporary disability. Most surgical procedures require a recovery period to allow the incision site to heal and to regain strength and range of motion. The recovery time depends on the type of surgery. Minor outpatient procedures may require a few days off work, while more complex surgeries like orthopedic procedures, heart surgery, or mastectomy can mean up to 6-8 weeks of temporary disability leave during recovery. Surgeries with complications may result in even longer periods of disability.

High Risk Pregnancy

Pregnancy that is deemed high risk due to factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, preeclampsia, or potential preterm labor may require a woman to take temporary disability leave from work during the pregnancy. Although pregnancy itself is not considered a disability, complications that pose health risks to the mother or baby do qualify for temporary disability. The time off required ranges from a few weeks to several months depending on the severity of the complication and recommended activity restrictions.

Mental Health Conditions

Many mental health conditions like depression, severe anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia can become temporarily disabling during periods of crisis or flare-up. The symptoms of severe mental illness may make it impossible for someone to work reliably or productively. Psychiatric hospitalization is often required during acute episodes. Temporary disability may continue for a period after hospital discharge to allow time for medications to become effective and for the person to re-stabilize.

Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery

People undergoing treatment and recovery from drug and alcohol addiction may need to take temporary disability leave from their jobs. Inpatient detoxification and rehabilitation programs require an intensive time commitment that precludes working. Once discharged from treatment, there is usually an extended transition period focused on outpatient counseling, 12-step programs, and rebuilding support systems that help maintain sobriety. Taking disability leave allows time and space to get addiction recovery efforts off to a successful start.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic progressive disorder characterized by severe burning pain, swelling, limited range of motion, and hypersensitivity of the affected limb. It usually develops after an injury, surgery, stroke, or heart attack but is out of proportion to the inciting event. The pain and mobility limitations of CRPS can often prevent someone from working for an extended period ranging from months to years. It is considered a temporary disability if there is potential for improvement and recovery of function.

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease have symptom flare-ups that may become severe enough to temporarily prevent someone from being able to work. A lupus flare might cause debilitating joint pain, fatigue, rashes and fever. Rheumatoid arthritis flares also involve extremely painful and swollen joints along with fatigue. Multiple sclerosis relapses can produce weakness, numbness, vertigo, bladder/bowel issues, and visual problems. And Crohn’s disease flares create symptoms like frequent urgent diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms can make it difficult to predictably attend and perform a job.

Heart Conditions

Various temporary heart conditions may necessitate short-term disability for recovery. Blocked heart arteries requiring surgical intervention such as angioplasty or bypass can mean 4-8 weeks off work post-surgery. Some abnormal heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation may require a short disability leave for procedures like cardioversion or ablation followed by medication adjustment. Hospitalization for congestive heart failure may also qualify someone for temporary disability during recovery and medication stabilization, especially if their jobs have physical demands.

Neurological Disorders

Neurological disorders like epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis have episodic flare-ups that may temporarily disrupt someone’s ability to work. Epilepsy seizures, Parkinson’s medication adjustments, and multiple sclerosis exacerbations can all necessitate brief periods of disability leave. Once the symptoms stabilize, people can usually return to work under normal conditions or with reasonable accommodations.


Uncontrolled seizures from epilepsy can impair consciousness, cognitive function, vision, coordination, and balance in a way that makes employment impossible until seizures become better controlled through medication adjustments or sometimes surgery. Even when seizures are not occurring, side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion from seizure medications may preclude working temporarily.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease progression and medication adjustments can sometimes lead to temporary disability. Tremors, rigid muscles, slow movements, and impaired balance can limit mobility. Symptoms may become severe enough during medication changes that working is not feasible temporarily until side effects dissipate and symptoms even out again.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis causes symptoms like visual disturbances, weakness, spasticity, fatigue, vertigo, bladder/bowel control issues, and numbness/tingling that wax and wane. During acute exacerbations, these symptoms may worsen to the point of necessitating short-term disability leave. Most people can return to work once the relapse has run its course and symptoms stabilize again.

Infectious Diseases

Certain infectious diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis, Lyme disease or hepatitis can cause symptoms so severe that work is impossible during the acute phase. Pneumonia may produce a high fever, breathlessness, coughing, and fatigue. Tuberculosis also involves fever, cough, fatigue, weight loss that precludes manual labor. Lyme disease can create disabling joint pain, neurological symptoms, and fatigue. And hepatitis leads to nausea, vomiting, jaundice, abdominal pain and profound fatigue. These symptoms may warrant temporary disability lasting from weeks to months based on the condition and response to treatment.


Cancer treatment almost always necessitates temporary disability leave from work due to the physical and emotional toll. Surgery to remove tumors is a major procedure requiring weeks off to recover. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy have severe side effects like extreme fatigue, weakness, nausea, susceptibility to infections, and anemia that often make working impossible for extended periods. Once someone completes active cancer treatment and starts to recover function again, they can usually return to work if desired.

Condition Duration of Typical Disability Leave
Flu 1-2 weeks
Ankle sprain 2-6 weeks
Back injury 4-8 weeks
Appendectomy 2-4 weeks
High risk pregnancy 4-12 weeks
Major depression 8-12 weeks
Inpatient addiction recovery 4-8 weeks
Rheumatoid arthritis flare 4-8 weeks
Congestive heart failure 4-6 weeks
Epilepsy medication adjustment 1-3 weeks
Pneumonia 4-8 weeks
Cancer surgery 8-12 weeks


There are many diverse medical conditions that can temporarily prevent someone from being able to work. The duration of disability leave required depends on the diagnosis, severity, required treatments, surgery recovery time, and access to quality medical care. Most conditions that lead to temporary disability are for defined periods during recovery or treatment of an acute illness or flare-up of an underlying chronic condition. Some disability leaves may be extended if complications arise that prevent timely return to work. The good news is that “temporary” implies that most people can expect to recover and resume their usual work duties once they get past the disability period.

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