How to file for disability, Filing for SSI
Disability Requirements, Disability Status
How long is the wait?, Disability Application
The Social Security List of Impairments
Qualifying for Disability, Mental Disability
Disability Lawyer Info, Disability Back Pay

Social Security Disability SSI and Degenerative Disc Disease


An individual filing for Social Security Disability or applying for SSI on the basis of Degenerative Disc Disease can be evaluated according to the 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.

How to qualify for disability under this listing

Impairment listing 1.04 A states an individual’s 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 – 70 degrees while they are sitting or in a lying position there is pain.

If the disability examiner is able to determine that an individual’s DDD is so severe that it meets, or is equivalent to, the requirements of the listing, they may be approved for disability benefits.

What if you don't meet the listing for DDD?

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 cannot be approved for SSD or SSI benefits. In other words, Social Security realizes that just because you don't satisfy the requirements of the listing does not mean you will necessarily have the residual functional capacity, i.e. remaining function, 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).

Here is an excerpt from the medical vocational allowance page linked to in the preceding paragraph:

Being approved on the basis of a Medical Vocational Allowance

A medical vocational allowance is granted when Social Security has reviewed both the claimant's medical records and their work history (for the 15 year period prior to becoming disabled) and come to the following conclusions:

1) The individual is not capable of returning to their past work. This includes their last job and potentially any other jobs they may have held in the last 15 years that were worked long enough for them to learn the requirements of the job.

2) The individual is not capable of doing some type of other work based on their job skills, their age, their education level, and their current level of functional capacity (residual functional capacityresidual functional capacity).

More on filing for disability with 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 condition 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 individual’s 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 individual’s 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 individual’s 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).

Essential Questions

What is the Social Security Disability SSI list of impairments?

Can you work while getting or applying for Disability?

How Often Does Social Security Approve Disability The First Time You Apply?

Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

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Receiving a Disability Award Letter

Conditions Social Security will recognize as a disability

Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

Applying for disability in your state

Most popular topics on SSDRC.com

Social Security Disability SSI Questions

The listings, list of disabling impairments

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Disability Lawyers prevent unnecessary denials

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How to apply for disability for a child or children

Filing a Social Security Disability SSI application

Filing for disability - when to file

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Qualifications for disability benefits

How to Prove you are disabled and Win your Disability Benefits

Qualifying for Disability - The Process

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SSI disability for children with ADHD

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Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

Social Security Disability SSI Exam tips

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New and featured pages on SSDRC.com

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Related pages:

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
Getting a Disability Lawyer in Alabama
How long can it take to get disability in Colorado?
Facts about Spinal Fusion and Filing for Disability

These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

Can you get temporary Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

Permanent Social Security Disability

What is the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?

Who is eligible for SSI disability?

Can I Be Eligible For SSI And Social Security Disability At The Same Time?

What makes a person eligible to receive disability benefits?

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?

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.