Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease can qualify for Disability Benefits
Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease?
Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis
Approximately 60% of people over the age of 40 have some degree of degenerative disc disease. Cervical degenerative disc disease is a common cause of neck pain and pain radiating down the shoulders to arms and hands. In severe cases, the condition can cause more than discomfort; a loss of mobility can seriously impact a person’s work and personal life. If you are suffering from the effects of cervical degenerative disc disease you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
The cervical spine is made up of seven bones called vertebrae.
These vertebrae are separated by discs filled with a gel-like substance. Cervical discs prevent the vertebrae from rubbing against one another, stabilize the neck, and allow the neck to turn forward, back, and side to side. The discs also provide shock absorption and cushioning. Discs are 85% water in children, but lose water as a person ages, becoming prone to cracks and tears and providing less shock absorption. As the discs become worn, they degenerate, narrowing the space between vertebrae and pinching nerves. The result is cervical disc degenerative disease.
As the condition progresses, the neck becomes less flexible and feels stiff and painful, especially at the end of the day.
If a disc ruptures or bulges out, pressure is placed on the spinal cord and nerve roots. This is known as a herniated disc or a slipped disc. Cervical degenerative disc disease usually develops slowly, but it can arise suddenly after an injury.
Symptoms vary from person to person, ranging from mildly annoying neck discomfort and stiffness to debilitating pain, numbness and weakness.
In some cases, an individual may have trouble moving their arms and legs or difficulty with balance and coordination.
The most common symptoms are:
- Neck pain.
- Nerve pain – sharp pain that radiates down the arm to the hand and fingers and is usually on one side of the body.
- Neurological symptoms – pins and needles sensations, numbness, weakness.
- Pain that worsens with movement.
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 Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
While cervical disc degenerative disease is usually just a part of aging, there are some risk factors that may place a person at risk of developing this condition:
- Smoking; and
- Injury to the spine.
To diagnose cervical disc degenerative disease, a doctor will first review a patient’s medical history to find out when symptoms began and perform a neurological exam to test the patient’s strength, reflexes and sensations.
A doctor will also order imaging tests such as x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans to determine the source of neck pain.
Most cases of cervical disc degeneration can be treated without surgery.
Pain can be temporary or chronic. For example, pain from a herniated disc is likely to go away on its own, while pain associated with osteoarthritis may require treatment on a regular basis. Doctors will usually recommend over the counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen first, but other therapies may help, including:
- Physical therapy;
- Heat or ice treatment;
- Massage therapy; and
Qualifying for Disability for Cervical disc disease
Neck pain can be caused by many issues: muscle strain, nerve compression, joints.
In April 2021, the Social Security Administration updated its listings under Section 1 Musculoskeletal Disorders. Cervical disc degenerative disease is now evaluated under Section 1.15 Disorders of the skeletal spine resulting in compromise of a nerve root(s). A person with a compromised nerve root of the cervical spine may experience numbness, tingling, or pain in the neck, shoulder, arm, hand, or fingers, called “cervical radiculopathy.” If the inflammation or impingement of the nerve root is severe, it could impact an individual’s fine motor skills, making it difficulty for them to use their hands and fingers to type, write, or hold and lift objects.
In order to qualify for Social Security Disability Income under this listing, you must prove that a nerve root is compressed and that you have radiating pain, tingling, numbness, muscle fatigue and poor reflexes.
Also, you must not be able to use either hand for fine and gross motor movements like those described above.
Social Security will want to see the following medical evidence:
- Results of a spinal examination that tests range of motion, strength and sensations;
- Tests specific to the cervical nerve root affected, such as a Spurling test (a test that reproduces symptoms by compressing the affected nerve root);
- Medical imaging such as MRIs, x-rays, and CT scans showing compromise of a cervical nerve root.
- Records of treatments received, including how long treatments lasted and results of treatments.
With your application, you should also submit:
- Statements from your medical providers summarizing your condition and detailing its effects on your daily activities, particularly work-related tasks;
- Employment records listing sick days, short-term disability leave, and family medical leave; and
- Statements from employers, co-workers and family members.
If you do not meet the requirements of the listing, you may still qualify for disability benefits if you are unable to work.
Social Security will conduct a residual functional capacity assessment (RFC) to evaluate your limitations. Social Security will also consider your age, education, and job experience to see if there are any jobs you are capable of performing. Among the functions they will test are
- Your ability to turn or bend your neck (for example, to look at a computer screen);
- Your ability to lift objects that weigh more than 20 lbs.;
- Your coordination and ability and use your arms and hands;
- If and how much pain interferes with your concentration.
Additionally, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits if you have another impairment; for example, arthritis.
Applicants often have more than one illness or injury that prevents them from working full time. By itself one disorder may not meet the requirements of an impairment as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book. However, if an applicant has multiple medical conditions, Social Security must consider how those health issues, combined together, limit an applicant’s ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks.
If you suffer from cervical disc degeneration, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability income, but approval of benefits is not guaranteed. An experienced Social Security attorney can review your case and guide you through the application process.
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.
In order to qualify for Social Security Disability, you will need to satisfy a few specific requirements in two categories as determined by the Social Security Administration.
The first category is the Work Requirements which has two tests.
- The Duration of Work test. Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
- The Current Work Test. Whether you worked recently enough for the work to actually count toward coverage.
The second category is the Medical Eligibility Requirement.
- Are you working? Your disability must be “total”.
- Is your medical condition severe? Your disability must be “severe” enough to interfere with your ability to perform basic work-related activities, such as walking, sitting, and remembering.
- Is your medical condition on the List of Impairments? The SSA has a “List of Impairments” that automatically qualify as “severe” disabilities. If your disease is not listed this does not mean you cannot get disability, it means you must prove you cannot maintain employment due to your limitations.
- Can you do the work you did before? SSDI rules look at whether your medical condition prevents you from doing the work you did prior to developing the condition.
- Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do your prior work, an evaluation is made as to whether you can perform any other kind of work.
More details can be found on our Qualifying for Disability page.
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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