Work-related upper-extremity disorders (WRUEDs) are an increasingly common cause of work-related symptoms and disability. Although most upper-extremity disorders are acute and self-limited, a small percentage of workers with symptoms go on to permanent disability and account for the majority of costs associated with these conditions. Little is known, however, about this progression from symptoms to disability and how it might be prevented. In this study, we evaluate the demographic, vocational, medical, and psychosocial characteristics of patients with WRUEDs and examine several hypotheses regarding the differences between working and work-disabled patients. One hundred twenty-four consecutive patients were evaluated in a clinic specializing in occupational upper-extremity disorders. Patients currently working (n = 55) and work-disabled patients (n = 59) were similar with regard to age, gender, and reported job demands. The work-disabled group reported less time on the job, more surgeries, a higher frequency of acute antecedent trauma, and more commonly had "indeterminate" musculoskeletal diagnoses. They also reported higher pain levels, more anger with their employer, and a greater psychological response or reactivity to pain. These findings, though cross-sectional in nature, suggest that, in addition to medical management, more aggressive approaches to pain control, prevention of unnecessary surgery, directed efforts to improve patients' abilities to manage residual pain and distress, and attention to employer-employee conflicts may be important in preventing the development of prolonged work disability in this population.