Disability for Back Problems

Millions of people suffer from chronic back pain. Many of these people experience mild pain that can be managed with rest and over-the-counter medications, but certain back-related conditions are severe enough to significantly limit the physical abilities of sufferers. Anyone who suffers from severe, chronic back pain may worry about their inability to work.

Social security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits are available for people who are unable to work. SSDI is a type of insurance that workers have paid into through paycheck deductions. Benefits are earned, so people who are unable to work due to disability are entitled to these benefits. There are qualifications that must be met before payments can be made.

Common Back Problems

Back problems may be caused by injury or age. Mild, temporary back pain may be felt when a person engages in physical activity. This pain with subside with rest. However, serious injuries could cause permanent pain and inflammation in the spinal column. Conditions including degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis can develop after an injury occurs. Injuries can be sustained during normal activities like lifting heavy objects or exercising more than usual without working up to a higher activity level. Chronic back pain can also develop as a person ages.

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease refers to the shifts that occur in the spine while a person ages. People who suffer from this condition often experience chronic pain in the lower back and neck. While the condition is referred to as a disease, it is actually a natural change in the discs in the spine. The degenerative quality of the condition simply means that the spinal discs continue to shift as a person ages.

The problem with degenerative disc disease is that the shifting of discs can lead to many other conditions that have the potential to cause permanent back pain. Proteins located along the spinal column may become inflamed, and inflammation is a common cause of pain and discomfort. Instability in the spine that can be caused by degeneration may also lead to pain by making it impossible for the spine to resist movement.

Chronic back pain is one of the most recognizable symptoms of degenerative disc disease, but this pain can be related to many other conditions. This is why it is essential for sufferers to seek medical attention to receive a diagnosis.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that occurs when the cartilage that works to cushion the bones at the joints starts to break down. Over 5 percent of Americans suffer from this condition. Primary osteoarthritis occurs due to old age, but people who experience an injury can develop secondary osteoarthritis.

Loss of cartilage allows the bones to rub together at the joints, and people who have osteoarthritis often feel pain and stiffness because of the condition. Loss of range of motion is common when cartilage breaks down. Significant damage can be done to the ligaments and muscles when osteoarthritis progresses. People who suffer from this condition may even need a joint replacement.

Spinal osteoarthritis causes severe pain in the back. Bone spurs may develop in the spinal column as a result of the condition, and these spurs cause pain by placing pressure on the nerves. Weakness in the back also occurs with spinal osteoarthritis. While some people with spinal osteoarthritis are able to lead normal lives, severe cases of the condition can cause a serious disability.

Qualifying for SSDI

There are certain qualifications that applicants must meet in order to receive SSDI benefits. Applicants must have worked enough to qualify for these benefits. Workers earn credits each year, and the number of credits that are earned each year depends on the the amount of money that a person earns. A maximum of four credits can be earned each year. Workers currently need to earn $1,200 to earn a credit. Most applicants need a minimum of 40 credits to qualify, and at least half of these credits must have been earned in the 10 years leading up to the date of application.

Applicants must also be disabled in a way that makes it impossible for them to work in any job for which they are qualified. Work experience, training and academic achievements may be reviewed to determine whether an applicant could complete the job tasks related to any position for which they are qualified.

Qualifying Due to Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a very common reason for people to apply for SSDI benefits. Unfortunately, it is typical for the Social Security Administration to deny applications that cite this condition as the reason for application. The reason for the high rate of denials relates to the objectivity of pain.

Applicants must collect evidence to show that their condition does not allow them to complete job tasks. It is essential for applicants to see a qualified medical professional on a regular basis. Tests including X-rays and CAT scans may be completed to determine how severe spinal problems may be. Medical providers should also keep detailed records of a patient’s ability to walk, sit and stand. Range of motion tests should be completed to determine whether the individual is able to lift and bend.

The most important component of the application process is providing evidence of disability. An applicant’s medical provider should be keeping records that outline symptoms, pain levels and the date of diagnosis.

Qualifying Due to Osteoarthritis

People who suffer from osteoarthritis are generally required to meet the conditions of one of the Social Security Administration’s listings in order to be approved for benefits. A diagnosis of spinal osteoarthritis is the first step to qualifying for benefits with this condition. One of the following complications must also be present in order for an application to be approved.

– The spinal nerve root is compressed in a way that severely limits range of motion.

– A narrowing in the spinal canal makes it extremely difficult for the individual to walk.

– The arachnoid membrane in the spinal column is severely inflamed.

Determining Your Residual Functional Capacity

Residual functional capacity (RFC) is an assessment of an applicant’s abilities. A medical professional must complete an RFC form to allow the Social Security Administration to determine whether an individual is qualified for SSDI benefits.

The results of the RFC assessment determine whether an applicant is capable of completing any type of work. For example, some people with limited physical abilities are still able to complete sedentary work. Typing on a computer is a type of sedentary work. These results will be compared with the skills of the applicant to determine whether the individual could find work in a different position. Restrictions on the amount of weight a person can lift or the worker’s ability to stand for more than a few minutes may be placed after an RFC assessment is completed.

Getting Help From an Attorney

The process of applying for SSDI benefits can be confusing. The majority of applicants are denied after they have completed the initial application process, and many of these denials relate to a lack of adequate proof of disability. Appealing a denial can be frustrating, and disabled individuals who can no longer work may feel alone throughout the SSDI application process. Getting the SSDI benefits that are needed to pay for basic necessities is a must.

Experienced SSDI attorneys are able to guide applicants through the application process. These attorneys are knowledgeable about dealing with the Social Security Administration to meet all application requirements to give applicants their best chance at being approved. Consult with an SSDI attorney to ease the burden of applying for SSDI benefits.

Ruth F. Kolb, Esquire has been practicing social security disability law since 2003 handling all levels of representation from initial claims through all stages of appeal.