Facts about Syringomelia and Filing for Disability
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.
Facts about the condition
1. Syringomyelia is a cyst that forms in the spinal cord, potentially causing damage if the cyst grows too large.
2. Syringomyelia is most often caused by another condition, Chiari malformation, which causes tissue in the brain to protrude into the spinal cord. Chiari malformation generally causes symptoms of syringomyelia to develop in the teen and young adult years of life.
3. Symptoms of syringomyelia may also develop after some kind of minor trauma event, like a fall, or even coughing and straining.
4. Syringomyelia is first realized with slowly developing symptoms. These typically occur surrounding the upper part of the spine, including the neck, shoulders and even arms and hands.
5. Early symptoms include muscle problems, such as atrophy and weakness. Reflexes may become slowed, and pain and temperature changes may be difficult to notice.
6. Other symptoms can include stiffness and pain in the affected body parts, bowel and bladder problems, leg muscle weakness and spasms, facial pain and numbness, and a tingling sensation that spreads rapidly from the neck down into the legs when quickly moving the neck.
7. Aside from Chiari malformation, other conditions may also cause syringomyelia to develop. One is meningitis, which inflames the membranes in the brain and spinal cord. Tethered spinal cord syndrome, which occurs when there is tissue attached to the spinal cord that causes movement to be limited, can also lead to syringomyelia.
8. A tumor or injury in the spine may also cause the condition to develop.
9. Sometimes syringomyelia causes few symptoms and may only need to be monitored. In mild cases, the cyst does not get any worse and no treatment is necessary to prevent further complications.
10. In other cases, syringomyelia may be progressive, meaning the cyst grows in size or the spinal cord nerves become damaged. Potential complications from progressive syringomyelia include scoliosis and chronic pain.
Qualifying for disability benefits with this condition
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 attorney 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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