The Social Security Administration, SSA views back pain disability in terms of how it affects your functioning, not the pain. It has divided the functioning difficulty in various listings depending on the severity of the limitations.
If you have lower back pain, arthritis in your back, extreme pain in the back that limits your mobility or any other kind of spinal condition that disrupts your daily functioning ability, then you might be eligible for disability benefits. If your medical documentation proves that your arthritis in the spine has made you unable to perform work, then you might win disability benefits right away.
Many disability applicants make the mistake of thinking that more severe back pain problem means they would be considered more deserving of the benefits by the SSA. However, the SSA wants prove of abnormality and severity of the limitations to put you in the listing 1 or 2. Ironically, that is also true medically. For instance, a person with sharp spasms in the back may experience sudden shots of excruciating pains making it very difficult to stand or sit at all. Whereas, a person with a broken hip, disjointled pelvis or even a nerve root compression or a herniated disk might not feel anything at all.
Back pain SSDI claims make the second most volume of disability applications made annually to the SSA – work related injuries make it to the top of the list. The SSA is aware of this and has thus, included many different types of spinal disorders, back impairments, injuries, conditions etc to be considered as eligible for disability benefits. Some other types of back pain in SSA's Blue Book of Impairments include:
- - rheumatoid arthritis,
- - osteoporosis;
- - osteoarthritis;
- - scoliosis;
- - spinal stenosis;
- - nerve root compression;
- - arachnoiditis;
- - spondylitis;
- - reconstructive surgery;
- - surgical arthrodesis of a major weight bearing joint;
- - major dysfunction of a joint;
- - amputations;
- - fracture of the femur, tibia, pelvis or one of the tarsal bones;
- - fracture of an upper extremity;
- - soft tissue injuries (e.g., burns);
- - degenerative disc disorderosteoarthritis;
- - herniated discs, and ;
- - spondylolisthesis;
According to a study, lower pain back due to degenerative disk disease, DDD is the most common cause of back disorders in people over 45 years of age.
Factors leading to Back Pain
Back pain is a result of various complex normal or abnormal processes taking place in your body, especially the spinal vertebrae. Some of the factors leading to back pain are as follows:
- -Irritation of the smaller nerves that innervate the spine;
- -Strain on the large paired back muscles (erector spinae);
- -Injury to the bones, ligaments or joints;
- -Irritation tothe large nerve roots that go to the legs and arms;
- -Injury to the intervertebral discs;
Most instances of back pain are caused by stresses on the muscles and ligaments that support the spine. Symptoms of back pain vary from a muscle aching to a shooting, burning or stabbing sensation. In addition, it may cause other adverse affects such as pain radiating down your leg or condition worsening with bending, twisting, lifting, standing or walking. While some people can take measures to prevent or relieve the pain, for many it may mean not being able to go to work again. In some cases, prevention may reduce the symptoms, in others, surgery is a must to get rid of the pain, that too, without guarantee of the person's health returning to what it was before the degenerative disk disorder or their back impairments.
Risk Factors for Back Pain
Back pain is the second most common cause of disability applicants applying for benefits. Unfortunately, it can develop in people of any age or gender. Some of the common risk factors include:
- - Age: Back pain is more common as you get older, starting around age 30 or 40;
- - Excess weight: Excess body weight puts extra stress on your back;
- - Diseases: Some types of arthritis and cancer can contribute to back pain;
- - Lack of exercise: Weak, unused muscles in your back and abdomen might lead to back pain;
- - Psychological state: People prone to depression and anxiety appear to have a greater risk of back pain;
- - Improper lifting: Using your back instead of your legs can lead to back pain;
- - Smoking: Smokers are reported to have higher incidences of back pain. This may occur because smoking prompts more coughing, which can lead to herniated disks. Smoking also inevitably decreases the blood flow to the spine and increases the risk of osteoporosis;
New Rules for Disability for Back Pain
Many types of lower back pains and back disorders have non- diagnosable anatomical causes, but the pain is real and can be untreated. For instance, a person with painful muscle spasms resulting from daily activity may be unable to sit, stand, lift or even move until the pain subsides – whereas, people with a herniated disk may not feel a thing.
To qualify for disability benefits due to back pain, the SSA doesn't look at the levels of your pain or condition only – it looks more at how your conditions disables you. For instance, the first question an ALJ judge might ask in a back pain disability appeals process in a case where a person's back pain lasted for 35 years, that "you have beared the pain for 35 years, what has changed now that you think you deserve disability benefits?". Hence, the correct way to answer this would require medical documentation, doctor's statement and/or employers statements considering also the age factor and deteriorating condition in all these years.
Hence, it is very important that you must have a specific diagnosis for what causes the back pain including pathological tests/documentation – such as, MRI scans, CAT scans, X-rays and lab tests and some physiotherapic tests such as the right leg lift tests that your disability examiner may perform to test how your condition limits your daily functioning.
Lastly, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will also consider pain caused by a properly documented mental disorder such as somatoform pain disorder. For more information you can also read other articles on how does SSA view back pain and tips on winning disability benefits with back pain.
You can seek counsel of our disability attorneys for more information.