Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Degenerative Disc Disease?
Author Lloyd Bemis:
Degenerative disc disease is an age-related condition where wear and tear on spinal discs causes severe pain and mobility problems.
Researchers estimate that one-third of people 40 – 59 have some form of degenerative disc disease. But can you get disability for it?
The spine is composed of 33 bones called vertebrae.
In between those vertebrae are discs that act as shock absorbing cushions. Each disc is composed of an outer band called the annulus fibrosis and a gel-like inner substance called the nucleus pulposus. The vertebrae and discs form a tunnel called the spinal canal that contains and protects the spinal cord and spinal nerves. At birth, the discs are mostly made up of water, but as a person ages the discs lose water becoming thinner and worn. There is less cushioning between the bones and the discs do not provide as much shock absorption. When vertebrae have less padding, the spine becomes less stable and to compensate, the body forms osteophytes or bone spurs along the edge of the bone. These bone spurs can press against the spinal cord or nerves, causing pain and interfering with nerve function.
Contact a Social Security disability attorney at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and see if you can get disability benefits while suffering from Degenerative Disc Disease. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
Discs can also be damaged by injuries or sudden movements in everyday activities.
Tiny tears can form in the annulus fibrosis, which contains nerves, causing pain. If the outer wall breaks down, the gel-like material can seep through the tears, resulting in a bulging disc or herniated disc. Herniated discs mainly occur in the low back where the lumbar spine carries the majority of body weight, radiating pain throughout the body.
Symptoms of degenerative disc disease depend on where the damaged disc is located, which could be the neck (cervical), mid-back (thoracic), or lower back (lumbar):
- Pain in the neck or back that is sharp or constant
- Pain in the lower back that spreads to buttocks or legs
- Pain extending from the neck to arms
- Weakness in legs affecting ability to stand
- Numbness or tingling in arms or legs
- Pain that varies, lasting days or months and is nagging or severe
- Pain that is worse when sitting and better when walking or moving
- Pain that is gets better when changing position or lying down
- Pain that worsens when bending, lifting, or twisting
- Loss of bladder or bowel control.
Though aging is the main cause of degenerative disc disease, other risk factors may contribute, including obesity, strenuous physical work, acute injury such as a fall, and smoking.
To diagnose degenerative disc disease, a doctor will review a patient’s medical history and ask questions about the nature and severity of their pain.
They will ask how and when the pain started, which part of the spine is painful, and what movements and actions cause pain. X-rays, CAT scans and MRIs can determine bone and nerve damage and provide proof of diagnosis. The goal of treatment is to relieve pain and prevent further damage to the spine. Over the counter drugs like ibuprofen provide pain relief, though a doctor may prescribe stronger medications or steroid injections if necessary. Physical therapy also helps and with medication, often provides enough long-term relief. In severe cases, a doctor may recommend surgery and perform a discectomy where the injured part of the disc is removed, taking pressure off the nerves. In some situations, a surgeon may remove the disc and replace it with an artificial disc or fuse vertebrae after removing the disc.
While back pain is a common complaint, in most cases the pain is intermittent and does not prevent a person from working.
However, for some people suffering with degenerative disc disease, the pain and other symptoms caused by the condition are disabling. Degenerative disc disease is listed as an impairment in Social Security’s Blue Book under Section 1.04 Disorders of the Spine and it is possible to receive disability benefits, if you meet certain requirements.
Social Security will only grant Social Security Disability benefits in cases where degenerative disc disease has impacted the vertebrae so severely it results in chronic pain and the inability to sit or stand for a certain period of time.
Social Security will want to see physicians’ notes confirming a diagnosis and results of x-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs as objective evidence of disc degeneration.
You must be able to prove that degenerative disc disorder has resulted in:
- nerve root compression, or
- arachnoiditis (imaging showing thickness and swelling of nerve roots), or
- stenosis (narrowing of spinal column).
Additionally, you must provide evidence that degenerative disc disease has impacted your ability to function by
- limiting your ability to walk effectively
- limiting your range of motion in the spine, and
- limiting the amount of time you can sit or stand without changing position or posture to less than two hours.
Social Security places little weight on complaints of pain, so it is absolutely essential to provide complete medical records that detail how degenerative disc disease has impacted your ability to work and your daily life.
It is important to get regular medical treatment (at least once every two months) and provide proof of treatment from medical providers. Sticking with one doctor who can monitor your condition will also help. Keep family and friends updated on your condition in the event that Social Security contacts them for information about your condition.
If you are suffering from degenerative disc disease and you are unable to work, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
Because back pain is a common complaint and is often not debilitating, qualifying for Social Security Disability Income under degenerative disc disease may not be easy. A Social Security Disability attorney can assist you with your claim, smoothing out the process and improving your chances for approval.
LTD degenerative disc disease disability claims:
Lonnie Roach, a partner in the Austin law firm Bemis, Roach & Reed, has successfully assisted hundreds of clients who have been denied long term disability benefits. These clients have suffered from many different conditions and injuries.
A Lubbock-area client suffered from degenerative joint disease of the right hip and left heel.
He had a history of osteoarthritis and multiple orthopedic surgical interventions including right ankle repair, lumbar fusion, right rotator cuff repair, and left calcaneal fracture. He also had a Class 1 heart disease. Medical records supported sedentary restrictions and limitations; our client was not expected to improve. He had a limited ability to sit, stand, or walk, only capable of doing those activities 33% of the time or less. Accordingly, the client’s treating physician stated that he would not ever be able to engage in full-time employment. The Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed. Reliance Standard denied his claim in spite of this, but benefits were reinstated after we appealed.
One client, from Wichita Falls, Texas, stopped working due to a degenerative spinal condition and filed for short term disability through AT&T, which was both her employer and her LTD insurance provider.
She was under the medical care of a board certified neurologist and remained on short term disability until those benefits expired. At that time, her claim was transitioned to long term disability under AT&T’s Disability Income Plan. Her doctor determined she was totally disabled, both from her own occupation at the phone company, as well as any occupation within the open labor market in which she resided. Her employer was acquired by another which reviewed and denied her claim. She hired us, and we were able to settle her claim.
An Austin client suffered from severe back pain resulting from L4-5 disc disease, as well as bilateral facet/SI joint pain.
His medications included Celebrex, Sanaflex, Norco and others. He is permanently disabled and will never be able to return to work. Indeed, that is what each of his physicians had stated and this was the finding reached by the Social Security Administration. In its denial letters and the appeal denial letters, Reliance Standard showed a lack of deference to the findings of our client’s doctors and surgeons and, in fact, a total reliance on its internal claims review personnel to support its denial. He was unable to sit or stand for more than 30 minutes at a time and spent most of his days in bed due to pain. He was unable to drive due to pain and medication. We won after taking his case to trial, with benefits reinstated.
Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.
Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis has been practicing law for over 35 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Bemis obtained dual board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lloyd is admitted to practice in the United States District Court – all Texas Districts and has argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Bemis is a member of the Travis County Bar Association. He has been active in the American Association for Justice and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Bemis and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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