In order to receive Social Security Disability benefits for a back impairment, your condition needs to be severe.
What does SSA consider a severe back impairment?
SSA considers a serious lumbar (lower back) or cervical (neck) spinal impairment to include the following diagnosis: osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, herniated disc, and degenerative disc disease. The spinal impairment needs to affect the spinal cord nerve root causing pain, reduced range of motion, reduced sensation, weaken reflexes, inflammation of your spinal membrane, and/or narrowing of the spinal cord resulting in weakness and the inability to walk effectively.
I’m in a lot of pain, why do I have to go in front of the administrative law judge?
Most people applying for disability due to a back injury are required to appear in front of an administrative law judge. A back injury is a commonly reported disability and involves pain assessment. Back pain and the associated limitations are subjective findings. If you have a back injury even if accompanied by sciatica, expect to have a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.
What can I do to prove to the administrative law judge my back injury is severe?
1. See your doctor regularly. This will ensure that sufficient medical records exist to substantiate your back injury and subsequent limitations. An administrative law judge can only base their decision on the medical evidence provided. Your doctor’s treatment notes should include your limitations; reduced range of motion, reduced muscular strength, poor gait, and positive straight leg raises.
2. See an orthopedist. You should see a back specialist because he/she will have a better understanding of your condition and will order specialized testing.
3. Have objective tests done. It is imperative that you have objective tests done (x-rays, MRI, CT- scan) because the derived impression is universally accepted. If the MRI says “severe bone on bone with disc space narrowing and degeneration” the judge understands your condition to be just that.
4. Do not see a chiropractor exclusively. The SSA does not give the same weight to chiropractic treatment notes compared with a treating orthopedist or even the notes of your primary care physician.
5. Have your doctor fill out a medical source statement documenting your functional limitations. A disability attorney can furnish this medical source statement, which is a questionnaire for your doctor to fill out regarding what you can/cannot do. This form is one of the most important documents in your file. Social Security doctors use similar forms and if your doctor does not fill one out, the administrative law judge’s decision will be based on the Social Security doctor’s assessment.
6. Do not give up. The SSA does not give great credence to the pain caused by your back injury or to the side effects caused by pain medication and muscle relaxers.
If you file for Social Security disability benefits on the basis of a back impairment, make sure your doctor documents your limitations in his treating notes. Better yet, hire a disability attorney and have your doctor fill out the medical source statement.