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Working and Disability

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Social Security List of Conditions

What Social Security considers disabling

Medical Evidence and Disability

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Narrowing of the Spine from Spinal Stenosis and Filing for Disability

These selected pages answer some of the most basic, but also some of the most important, questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim for disability benefits.

Facts about the condition

1) Spinal stenosis is a result of the spine narrowing in one or more locations, causing pressure and pain in the lower and upper back depending upon whether it affects the cervical, lumbar, or thoracic spine. While some narrowing of the spine does not cause issues, narrowed areas that squeeze and compress spinal nerves and the spinal cord may cause spinal stenosis.

2) Ligament changes, spinal tumors, herniated disk, injury, achondoplasia, and Paget disease of the bone, may all cause a narrowing of the spine that leads to spinal stenosis.

3) Spinal stenosis is a fairly new condition; it was not recognized as a serious medical condition until the 1960s.

4) Loss of balance, neck and shoulder pain, hip and back pain, cramping in the legs, and even loss of bladder or bowel function, are the most common symptoms for the disease. Some of these symptoms may be relieved by physical therapy, pain relievers, or a supportive back brace. Sever cases may require surgery.

5) The risk of spinal stenosis increases after age 50.

6) Exercising regularly, employing correct posture while driving or sitting, lifting heavy objects carefully and mindfully, and using good body mechanics in general, can help decrease risk of spinal stenosis.

6) Spinal stenosis falls into two categories: acquired or primary. Acquired spinal stenosis is usually caused by degenerative changes due to aging and happens later in life. It is caused by arthritic conditions and osteoarthritis. Primary spinal stenosis is present at birth and is not as common as acquired spinal stenosis.

Qualifying for disability benefits with this condition

Whether or not you qualify for disability and, as a result, are approved for disability benefits will depend entirely on the information obtained from your medical records.

This includes whatever statements and treatment notes that may have been obtained from your treating physician (a doctor who has a history of treating your condition and is, therefore, qualified to comment as to your condition and prognosis). It also includes discharge summaries from hospital stays, reports of imaging studies (such as xrays, MRIs, and CT scans) and lab panels (i.e. bloodwork) as well as reports from physical therapy.

In many disability claims, it may also include the results of a report issued by an independent physician who examines you at the request of the Social Security Administration.

Qualifying for SSD or SSI benefits will also depend on the information obtained from your vocational, or work, history if you are an adult, or academic records if you are a minor-age child. In the case of adults, your work history information will allow a disability examiner (examiners make decisions at the initial claim and reconsideration appeal levels, but not at the hearing level where a judges decides the outcome of the case) to A) classify your past work, B) determine the physical and mental demands of your past work, C) decide if you can go back to a past job, and D) whether or not you have the ability to switch to some type of other work.

The important thing to keep in mind is that the social security administration does not award benefits based on simply having a condition, but, instead, will base an approval or denial on the extent to which a condition causes functional limitations. Functional limitations can be great enough to make work activity not possible (or, for a child, make it impossible to engage in age-appropriate activities).

Why are so many disability cases lost at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels?

There are several reasons but here are just two:

1) Social Security makes no attempt to obtain a statement from a claimant's treating physician. By contrast, at the hearing level, a claimant's disability attorney or disability representative will generally obtain and present this type of statement to a judge.

Note: it is not enough for a doctor to simply state that their patient is disabled. To satisy Social Security's requirements, the physician must list in what ways and to what extent the individual is functionally limited. For this reason, many representatives and attorneys request that the physician fill out and sign a specialized medical source statement that captures the correct information. Solid Supporting statements from physicians easily make the difference between winning or losing a disability case at the hearing level.

2) Prior to the hearing level, a claimant will not have the opportunity to explain how their condition limits them, nor will their attorney or representative have the opportunity to make a presentation based on the evidence of the case. This is because at the initial levels of the disability system, a disability examiner decides the case without meeting the claimant. The examiner may contact the claimant to gather information on activities of daily living and with regard to medical treatment or past jobs, but usually nothing more. At the hearing level, however, presenting an argument for approval based on medical evidence that has been obtained and submitted is exactly what happens.

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

Related Body System Impairments:

Arachnoiditis and Filing for Disability
Transverse Myelitis and Filing for Disability
Spinal Stenosis and Filing for Disability
Curved Spinal Conditions and Filing for Disability
Scoliosis and Filing for Disability
Spina Bifida and Filing for Disability
Syringomelia and Filing for Disability
Chiari Malformation and Filing for Disability
Meningitis and Filing for Disability
Laminectomy and Filing for Disability
Narrowing of the Spine from Spinal Stenosis and Filing for Disability

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.

How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
How long does it take to be approved for SSI or Social Security disability?
What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?
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