There are a number of different spinal conditions that can cause a host of disabling impairments, some of which include arthritic conditions like degenerative disc disease, inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, arachnoiditis, and spondylitis and nerve conditions such as spinal stenosis, herniated discs, scoliosis and nerve root compression.
While many people experience back pain that is, to some degree, debilitating and incapacitating, in order to qualify for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks to whether a claimant’s pain symptoms are documented in the medical record and if they can be supported by “objective” findings of physical abnormalities. Normally, such diagnostic testing would include x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, EMGs (nerve conduction studies), discography, etc.
If a claimant’s “severe” back pain does not correspond to a physical impairment that commonly causes similar pain symptoms, it can be difficult to establish disability. It is often the case that the most valuable evidence in the file is the claimant’s treating physician’s notes and reports, as Social Security gives added weight to the reports of medical providers who regularly see a claimant. Evaluation and treatment by such specialists as rheumatologists, neurologists, orthopedists, physiatrists, or pain medicine physicians are most helpful.
Furthermore, SSA recognizes that back pain and its treatment (often powerful medications) can negatively impact a claimant’s emotional state and energy levels. As a result, SSA will consider the totality of one’s both physical and psychiatric medical record when making its determination. If a claimant suffers from depression or other mood disorder due to their physical impairments, SSA will look at the combined effect these issues have on the claimant’s ability to work.
To qualify for benefits under one of the SSA’s Federal disability programs, an individual must be below retirement age (65) and have a “medically determinable” impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months. SSA uses a 5-Step evaluation for determining if a claimant qualifies for disability benefits under one of its programs.
At Silver & Silver, we’ll help you determine whether you meet the SSA’s definition of disability and walk you through the process step-by-step. Contact us today for a free consultation.