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SSD and Back pain - A first person perspective

One of the most commonly listed impairments on Social Security Disability and SSI disability applications is lower back pain. Why is this condition so "common"? Well, it's simply due to the way humans are built. The lower back area (particularly L5-S1) is the point at which we bend to pick up things and we often use it as a fulcrum to lift heavy objects.

Unfortunately, because lower back problems are seen so often on disability applications, they tend to be viewed by disability examiners in a dismissive way. The typical examiner will look at a disability app that lists back pain as the only allegation and will think to themselves, "Back pain, is that all?". From day one, when the file lands on the examiner's desk, the examiner will have it in his or her mind that the case will ultimately be denied.

Having been an examiner, I am sad to say that this is how the evaulation process usually begins for such cases. And it sucks. Extreme lower back pain (I don't mean simply "pain". I mean pain of the kind that prevents you from even being able to get off the bed and onto your feet to go to the bathroom without breaking into a sweat and wanting to scream) is something that one cannot imagine...unless one has experienced it firsthand. And without having experienced it personally, it is difficult for others to really understand how back pain can be so severe that it impairs a person's ability to work.

Unfortunately, most DDS examiners--the individuals who slap decisions on ssd and ssi claims--are relatively young people who have NEVER experienced this kind of pain. Typically, probably due to relatively low pay, most examiners in a DDS unit will be in their early to late twenties. Yes, you do see people in their thirties, forties, even fifties at a DDS, but most DDS units will be composed of younger workers.

I have no doubt in my mind that this fact alone has a bearing on the decisions rendered for some claims. I mean, how can a person understand how debilitating or painful a situation can be if they've never experienced at least something similar? I'm sure they can't. And with so many examiners belonging to a relativly young age-set, this "builds" a certain insensitivity into the process.

I'll give you an example of what I mean. About eight years ago, I injured my back and was out for 3 straight days. How did this happen? I simply got out of the shower. I must have stepped the wrong way as I got out, because as I was closing my front door I could feel pain tingling down my right leg. Thirty minutes later at a christmas eve party I was on the floor and unable to move. I spent the next three days in bed, on flexeril and pain killers, unable to move much at all. Getting up to go to the bathroom felt like a spike was being hammered into my tailbone.

How does this personal bit of information relate? When I got back to the job (DDS), I tended to look at back cases a lot differently than before. Even though my condition had been relatively short-lived, the memory of the awful pain I felt in those three days made me more acutely aware of how debilitating back pain can be. And how restrictive and limiting a back condition can be for people who have chronic and ongoing back pain.

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For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.