Foot Drop and Filing for Disability

Foot drop may be a valid medical condition to list on a disability application with the Social Security Administration. It would most likely fall under the classification of neurological or musculoskeletal impairments. Were it listed in the SSA Blue Book listings, it would be evaluated under adult listing section 1.00, Musculoskeletal System - Adult or section 11.00 Neurological System - Adult.

Generally, foot drop is not a diagnosis on its own. Rather, it is a characteristic, or part, of a more severe underlying neurological or musculoskeletal condition. It is important to note that since foot drop on its own is not a qualifying impairment under the Social Security guidelines, your medical records should show the root cause of your foot drop.

Medical record evidence

Therefore, it is helpful to have a medical treatment history that contains objective medical testing and imaging to support your diagnosis. If you are able to get your treating physician to provide a statement, it would be helpful for it to provide your diagnosis, a description of the foot drop, treatment methods, medications, and response to treatment along with a prognosis that will help substantiate your disability claim.

Very often, the prognosis is a determining factor for disabilty claims involving foot drop. If your foot drop is the result of trauma or nerve damage, you will generally have a partial or full recovery, thus making it difficult to be approved for SSD or SSI disability benefits. On the other hand, if you have a progressive neurological or orthopedic disorder the foot drop may be a symptom that will continue as a lifelong disabling condition.

Getting disability with foot drop

If your foot drop is the result of a progressive neurological or orthopedic disorder, you may be able to meet or equal the requirements of an impairment listing in the Musculoskeletal or Neurolgical sections of the SSA Blue Book. If not, you will have to prove that your foot drop prevents the performance of substantial gainful work activity.

You can show this through the information contained in your medical treatment records and your medical vocational work history. Social Security Disability specialists use the information to determine if you are able to go back to any of the jobs you performed in the past or do other kinds of work, when the limitations of your foot drop and other medical conditions are considered.

You may be surprised to learn that simply being diagnosed with a medical condition does not qualify you for SSD or SSI disability. Social Security Disability determinations consider the ways and extent to which a person is functionally limited, because this will impact their ability to engage in work activity. If you are unable to perform any of your past work or other kinds of work, you maybe approved for disability benefits even though you were not able to meet or equal an impairment listing. Social Security Disability is about functionality rather than specific medical conditions.

These selected pages answer some of the most basic, but also some of the most important, questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim for disability benefits.

  • How to apply for disability and the information that Social Security needs

  • Who will qualify for disability and what qualifying is based on

  • Requirements for disability - Qualifications Criteria for SSD and SSI

  • How to Prove you are disabled and win your disability benefits

  • Facts about Foot drop

    1) Foot drop is the inability to turn the toes and ankle upward, causing the foot to 'drop' with a steppage gait. Basically, the front of the foot will drag with foot drop, and it will be difficult for those with the condition to walk on their heels.

    2) Foot drop is caused by damage to the peroneal nerve, making the leg unable to dorsiflex, or bring the toes toward the shin. It is not a disease, but is usually caused by a neurological issue, though sometimes it can be caused by a muscular or anatomical issue. It may be temporary or permanent.

    3) Foot drop causes the foot to slap flatly against the floor and the toes can drag. It can make it difficult to lift the front part of the foot and may also be accompanied by numbness, tingling, weakness and/or pain.

    4) Although foot drop can affect both feet, it is usually only found in one foot.

    5) Foot drop is usually easy to diagnose with a simple physical exam and detailed explanation of the symptoms. In some cases a doctor will measure electrical activity in the nerves and muscles through the use of electromyography (EMG) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

    6) Treatment for foot drop will vary depending on the cause. The first course of action is finding and treating the underlying cause, and then as a second course of action splints, braces, nerve stimulation, and physical therapy usually help improve mobility. If the underlying cause cannot be treated properly foot drop may be permanent.

    7) Permanent cases of foot drop may require surgery to improve walking. Surgery may include transferring tendons to create stronger leg muscles, or fusing the foot bones or ankle bones.

    8) Most cases of foot drop may be treated easily with foot or ankle support.

    More on qualifying for disability benefits with foot drop

    Whether or not you qualify for disability and, as a result, are approved for disability benefits will depend entirely on the information obtained from your medical records.

    This includes whatever statements and treatment notes that may have been obtained from your treating physician (a doctor who has a history of treating your condition and is, therefore, qualified to comment as to your condition and prognosis). It also includes discharge summaries from hospital stays, reports of imaging studies (such as xrays, MRIs, and CT scans) and lab panels (i.e. bloodwork) as well as reports from physical therapy.

    In many disability claims, it may also include the results of a report issued by an independent physician who examines you at the request of the Social Security Administration.

    Qualifying for SSD or SSI benefits will also depend on the information obtained from your vocational, or work, history if you are an adult, or academic records if you are a minor-age child. In the case of adults, your work history information will allow a disability examiner (examiners make decisions at the initial claim and reconsideration appeal levels, but not at the hearing level where a judges decides the outcome of the case) to A) classify your past work, B) determine the physical and mental demands of your past work, C) decide if you can go back to a past job, and D) whether or not you have the ability to switch to some type of other work.

    The important thing to keep in mind is that the social security administration does not award benefits based on simply having a condition, but, instead, will base an approval or denial on the extent to which a condition causes functional limitations. Functional limitations can be great enough to make work activity not possible (or, for a child, make it impossible to engage in age-appropriate activities).

    Why are so many disability cases lost at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels?

    There are several reasons but here are just two:

    1) Social Security makes no attempt to obtain a statement from a claimant's treating physician. By contrast, at the hearing level, a claimant's disability attorney or disability representative will generally obtain and present this type of statement to a judge.

    Note: it is not enough for a doctor to simply state that their patient is disabled. To satisy Social Security's requirements, the physician must list in what ways and to what extent the individual is functionally limited. For this reason, many representatives and attorneys request that the physician fill out and sign a specialized medical source statement that captures the correct information. Solid Supporting statements from physicians easily make the difference between winning or losing a disability case at the hearing level.

    2) Prior to the hearing level, a claimant will not have the opportunity to explain how their condition limits them, nor will their disability lawyer or representative have the opportunity to make a presentation based on the evidence of the case. This is because at the initial levels of the disability system, a disability examiner decides the case without meeting the claimant. The examiner may contact the claimant to gather information on activities of daily living and with regard to medical treatment or past jobs, but usually nothing more. At the hearing level, however, presenting an argument for approval based on medical evidence that has been obtained and submitted is exactly what happens.

    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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