Will it be difficult to win disability on the basis of a back condition?

A significant percentage of Social Security Disability and SSI disability claims involve back pain of one sort or another (back pain in the lumbar, thoracic, or cervical areas of the spine caused by scoliosis, degenerative disc disease, bone spurs, arthritis, etc.) And, when it comes to disability claims that are based on physical allegations only, back pain plays an even bigger role.

How many disability claims involve back pain? As a disability examiner, it seems I saw some type of back condition on perhaps every third or fourth claim and that includes disc and joint problems in general, stenosis, scoliosis, herniation, disc dessication, forms of arthritis, the list goes on.

Of course, it's not surprising. If you've worked a heavy or medium exertional job, you've probably put some significant demands on your spine. However, even individuals working jobs of a light or sedentary nature know how easy it is to injure their back by doing the simplest things (such as stepping out of the shower, or squatting down to retrieve something from the floor).

And, of course, once back problems begin you 1. may always be at risk for additional injuries and 2. may be faced with a physical problem that progressively degenerates over time. In fact, this is exactly why degenerative disc disease is called degenerative disc disease.

Will it be difficult to win disability on the basis of a back condition? I will say that most claims seldom involve just a back condition, or just one condition. So, when disability examiners review a claim, they are usually asessing physical and mental functional limitations that are the result of multiple conditions.

As regards getting approved on the basis of a back condition, SSA does have listings that address conditions of the spine:

1. Social Security Disability SSI and Degenerative Disc Disease

2. Are Social Security Disability Claims Based On Back Pain Usually Turned Down?

3. Nerve root compression, Spinal arachoiditis, Lumbar spinal stenosis, and Social Security Disability

In most cases, however, it will be difficult to meet a listing and the applicant will have a higher probability of getting approved on the basis of a medical vocational allowance. During that process, in which both the medical and work history information is reviewed, a disability examiner will also take note of any back-related functional limitations an applicant might have such as a reduced ability to sit or stand, or crouch or stoop.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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