Can I Receive Disability Benefits with Back problems?

In the Social Security Administration's disability handbook (known to disability examiners as the blue book and titled "Disability Evaluation under Social Security), back problems are given consideration under section 1, Musculoskeletal Impairments.

The listing manual, otherwise referred to as the Social Security Disability list of impairments, mentions a number of listing-level conditions. These are grouped into categories and one of them is Disorders of the spine. This listing category specifically mentions the following conditions: arthritis, ankylosis, osteoporosis, herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal stenosis, vertebral fractures, and limitation of motion of the spine.

As a former disability examiner for the social security administration's DDS, or disability determination services, I was able to observe over a number of years that back problems, in all their various forms, show up quite frequently on disability claims. If a study were to be completed for which physical problems show up most frequently on an application for disability, back problems would no doubt appear in the top five. And considering all physical and mental impairments, back problems would still probably appear in the top ten alleged conditions, and still possibly in the top five again as well.

The reason for this, of course, is not difficult to understand. Back problems tend to occur as a function of aging. They also occur more frequently when the work performed by an individual involves stooping (bending), climbing, and lifting, such as would be the case in many occupations that involve medium level exertion.

However, a job does not have to be medium or heavy duty to involve strain on the spine. Many light duty occupations also place the back at risk. And, additionally, many claimants who file for disability benefits do so as a result of a non-work related injury to the back that has caused limitation of motion in the spine, or set the stage for arthritis, or degenerative disc disease.

Then, of course, there are individuals who have various degrees of scoliosis and who may have had this condition from early childhood.

Disability claims, whether they are decided by a disability examiner on an disability application, or on a request for reconsideration appeal (or by a federal judge at a social security hearing) are decided without regard to the specific condition that an individual possesses. Eligibility for disability benefits is decided as a result of the information presented in a claimant's medical records.

However, the determination of disability is based on A) what functional limitations or restrictions can be concluded from a review of the medical evidence and B) To what extent these limitations prevent the individual from being able to engage in work activity for which a substantial and gainful income can be earned.

These two facts require the social security administration to not only evaluate a claimant's medical records (from all of their treatment sources at least as far back as the time that they allege they became disabled and unable to work), but also to review the claimant's relevant work history.

The work history is reviewed so that the decision-maker on the disability claim can determine if the claimant's limitations, caused by their illness, injury, or congenital condition, will rule out their ability to go back to work at a former job, and also rule out their capacity for performing some type of other work.

Additional Information at: How to get Approved for Disability on the Basis of a Back Condition

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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