Social Security Disability Definitions
Social Security Disability and SSI Overview
The Requirements for Disability
Social Security Disability and SSI Applications
Tips and Advice for Disability Claims
How long does Disability take?
Common Mistakes after Receiving a Disability Denial
Social Security Disability and SSI Denials
Social Security Disability and SSI Appeals
Social Security Mental Disability Benefits
Disability Benefits offered through Social Security
Benefits through SSI disability
Disability Benefits for Children
Disability Qualifications and How to Qualify
Social Security Disability and Working
Winning your Disability Benefits
Social Security Disability Back Pay Benefits
Social Security Disability SSI Awards and Award Notices
Disability Lawyers and Hiring an Attorney
Social Security Disability SSI List of Conditions
What is considered a Disabling condition by Social Security?
Social Security Disability SSI and Medical Evidence
Filing for Disability Benefits
Eligibility for Disability Benefits
SSDRC authored by Tim Moore
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Social Security Disability SSI and Degenerative Disc Disease
Millions of Americans suffer from some form of degenerative disc disease. DDD causes the discs between vertebrae to deteriorate; as the discs deteriorate they cause a significant amount of pain and loss of mobility. Sometimes an individual suffers from so much pain and loss of function they become unable to perform any kind of substantial work activity.
Individuals who have been unable to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA) for twelve months or who expect to be unable to perform SGA-level work activity (a monthly earnings amount deemed by Social Security to be self supporting (See the current amount here: SGA) for twelve months due to degenerative disc disease may be able to receive monthly Social Security Disability (SSD) and/or Supplemental Security Income disability (SSI).
Social Security considers any medically determinable mental or physical impairment that has prevented the performance of SGA to be a disabling condition. Social Security is less concerned with specific physical or mental conditions and is more concerned with how an individualís disabling condition limits their ability to function or their ability to perform daily activities that might be associated with work activity. Because of this, Social Security is interested in objective medical evidence that addresses the severity of an individualís condition, functional limitations, and response to treatment.
Since musculoskeletal impairments have a habit of improving with time or responding to treatment, Social Security disability examiners like to have at least a twelve month clinical record to assess the severity of an individualís DDD. Acceptable medical evidence might include imaging techniques (MRI, CT, or x-ray), blood work, or clinical notes that are obtained from licensed physicians, orthopedists, neurologists, etc. Social security does not consider medical evidence from chiropractors to be acceptable though they will use objective medical testing information included in their medical records, such as xrays.
If a person has no ongoing medical treatment, Social Security must still have current objective medical evidence to make their disability decision. In the absence of recent treatment and the records that go along with this, Social Security will get the needed information through a consultative examination with a medical professional who has been contracted to perform services for Social Security. These independent medical exams often prove to be short non-thorough examinations aimed at giving the disability examiner just enough medical information to make their disability decision.
Generally, decisions based upon a consultative examination are not an approval for disability benefits. This is why it is so important, if at all possible, to have medical treatment notes that contain objective medical information from an acceptable medical source (your medical doctor and any hospitals and clinics you have been treated at).
Social Security evaluates the severity of DDD using the severity level criteria of impairment listing 1.04, Disorders of the Spine.
While this listing addresses degenerative disc disease, it also address other conditions such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, vertebral fractures, facet arthritis, and spinal arachnoiditis.
Section A of this listing, 1.04 A, specifically addresses degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, facet arthritis, vertebral fracture, and osteoarthritis, while sections B and C address the severity level criteria for spinal arachnoiditis and spinal stenosis, respectively.
Impairment listing 1.04 A states an individualís degenerative disc disease must result in compromise of a nerve root, including the cauda equina or spinal cord. There must be evidence of nerve root compression evidenced by limited motion of the spine, neuro-anatomic pain distribution, or motor function loss (atrophy with muscle weakness or muscle weakness) along with sensory or reflex loss.
If a person has degenerative disc disease that involves the lower back, there should be a positive straight leg test (both sitting and lying down). A positive straight leg test simply means that when a straight leg is lifted up 30 Ė 70 degrees while they are sitting or in a lying position there is pain.
If the disability examiner is able to determine that an individualís DDD is so severe that it meets, or is equivalent to, the requirements of the listing, they may be approved for disability benefits.
Unfortunately, most individuals with degenerative disc disease do not meet or even equal the severity criteria of listing 1.04A. However, failing to qualify for disability benefits on the basis of the listing does not mean that a person will necessarily possess the residual functional capacity that would allow them to return to work. "Residual functional capacity" refers to a person's remaining capacity after consideration of their condition or conditions.
If an individual does not meet or equal an impairment listing, then they must be given a residual functional capacity rating (claimants are rated as being capable of performing medium, light, sedentary, or less-than-sedentary work activity). If the rating is so restrictive as to prevent work activity in their past jobs, and is so restrictive that the individual is considered incapable of doing some type of other work, they may win their disability benefits through a medical vocational allowance (approval).
Return to: Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions
Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:
Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI
These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.
Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?
What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?
How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria