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Applying for disability with Degenerative Disc Disease, Spinal Stenosis, Arachnoiditis

Filing for disability with degenerative disc disease

If you are applying for Social Security disability on the basis of back pain, you will need to have medical evidence. Social Security disability examiners prefer to have a 12 month medical history of treatment to make their disability determinations. This treatment must be provided by an approved medical source. For example: physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, physical therapist, or other medical professional. For individuals applying on the basis of a back problem, Social Security does not recognize a chiropractor as an acceptable medical source other than using their imaging (x-rays).

If you are planning on file for disability, you should have your own treating physician if possible. If you do not have medical records or all of your medical records are more than ninety days old, it is likely that Social Security will send you to a consultative examination. Consultative examinations are performed by doctors who are paid by Social Security to perform a very cursory examination that provides them with the current status of an individualís impairment. You should not consider this examination as any kind of treatment or even a thorough evaluation of your disabling condition.

Social Security uses the criteria established in impairment listing 1.04 Disorders of the Spine of the blue book (guidebook for Social Security disability determinations)to evaluate disability claims with an allegation of back pain or problems. For example, if you have osteoarthritis, herniated nucleus pulposus (ruptured disc), spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, spinal arachnoiditis, or vertebral fracture, this listing will be used to make your medical determination for Social Security disability.

You must have a disorder of the spine that results in a compromise of the nerve root or spinal cord, along with one of the following:

1. Nerve root compression evidenced by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, range of motion limitation of the spine, motor loss with muscle weakness with sensory or reflex loss. If the lower back is involved positive straight leg rising (you have pain with raising of the leg) in the sitting position or lying down; Or

2. Spinal arachoiditis, verified by an operative note, or pathology report of tissue biopsy, or by medically acceptable imaging. Demonstrated by severe burning or painful dysesthesia, resulting in the need to change position or posture more than one time every two hours; Or

3. Lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudoclaudication, evidenced by findings of medically acceptable imaging, manifested by chronic nonradicular pain and weakness, that results in an inability to ambulate effectively (i.e. use of prescribed cane, crutches, or even wheelchair).

It was my experience as a Social Security disability examiner that the disability rules and guidelines made it difficult to be approved on the bases of back conditions. This was especially true if the disability applicant was under the age of 50, because disability vocational guidelines favor older individuals. Considering the impairment listing criteria listed above it is easy to see why most disability applicants with back problems are not able to meet or equal the criteria of an impairment listing 1.04.

If you cannot meet or equal the listing, you still may be approved through a medical vocational allowance. This type of allowance is based upon several factors rather than the strict criteria of an impairment listing. Disability examiners are allowed to consider a personís education, job skills, age, and residual functional ability (what a person can do in spite of the limitations their impairment imposes upon them).

A bit about the condition

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a painful condition most often caused by strenuous or repetitive heavy lifting or an injury such as a car accident, sports injury or serious fall that can affect the spine. The strain of lifting or injury can cause tears and trauma to the discs that separate the vertebrae in the spinal column, making them lose their elasticity and ability to flex, bend and protect the vertebrae and the spine.

Degenerative disc disease also happens normally in a gradual progression due to age and a loss of fluid in the discs, but does not usually cause a problem in this capacity. When Degenerative disc disease is caused by heavy lifting or injury it is more prominent and painful due to disc inflammation and subsequent nerve pain.

Degenerative disc disease is characterized by low back pain and sometimes neck pain that can spread to other parts of the body such as the thighs, buttocks and hips. It may be accompanied by tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms or legs and can lead to other more serious issues such as a herniated disc, spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis. If you have lower back or neck pain, it is highly suggested that you get an exam to make sure it is not a serious issue. Degenerative disc disease can sometimes be diagnosed with a physical examination, although sometimes an X-ray is needed to determine the problem.

Contrary to the name, Degenerative disc disease is not actually a progressive disease, but a condition that normally happens slowly with age, unless an injury is sustained. Since Degenerative disc disease is more often an injury related condition and not a disease, it is most often treated with a combination of chiropractic work, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs such as over-the-counter pain medications or in some cases prescription pain relievers, or spinal injections. If these treatments do not work and the pain is chronic and severe, accompanied by nerve damage, spinal fusion surgery may be needed.

Currently there are many new treatments options being explored for Degenerative disc disease, from disc replacement and stem cell therapies to gene therapy and glucosamine injections.

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

Related Body System Impairments:

Social Security Disability SSI and Degenerative Disc Disease
Are Social Security Disability Claims Based On Back Pain Usually Turned Down?
How many Social Security disability cases are approved for back pain?
Get your pain symptoms on record so that Social Security can take this into consideration
Never minimize your pain or other symptoms because this can be used against you
Will I qualify for disability due to back pain, a bone spur, and bulging discs?
Degenerative Disc Disease, Social Security Disability, and Applying for Benefits
Degenerative joint disease and Filing for Disability
Herniated Slipped Disc and Filing for Disability
Facts about Lumbar Fusion and Filing for Disability
Facts about Spinal Fusion 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.

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