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Post-polio Syndrome and Qualifying for Disability Benefits

Appealing for benefits is best done under the guidance of an experienced disability lawyer.

Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Post-polio Syndrome?

Author Attorney Greg Reed:


Post-polio Syndrome is a complex medical condition which may impact an individual’s employment as well as their personal life. If you are unable to work because of Post-polio Syndrome, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.


post polio disability

The SSA recognizes Post-polio Syndrome in its Blue Book under Section 11.11. To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits a person must meet the requirements of the listing or prove that they are unable to work. Call 512-454-4000 for help today.

Because of a successful vaccination program, the United States has been free of polio since 1979.

However, polio is still active in other countries and can be brought in to the United States by travelers. The last time this occurred was in 1993. The National Organization for Rare Disorders estimates that there are approximately 300,000 polio survivors in the country today and about one quarter to one half of those have some form of post-polio syndrome or PPS. Post-polio syndrome is a disorder that affects people who have had polio 10 to 40 years after their recovery from the original infection.


Post-polio syndrome is usually characterized by a progressive weakness in those muscles that were affected by the original polio infection.

Symptoms may mimic ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or another serious disease. In some cases, the muscles impacted by PPS were not involved in the initial infection, including muscles used in respiration.


The most common symptoms include:

  •    General fatigue and exhaustion, even with little activity;
  •   Muscle and joint weakness and pain that progressively worsens;
  •   Muscle atrophy (shrinking);
  •   Difficulty swallowing, chewing or breathing;
  •   Difficulty speaking and forming words;
  •   Disorders related to sleep, such as sleep apnea; and
  •   Decreased tolerance for cold temperatures.


There is no known cause for post-polio syndrome, but researchers believe the disorder could be related to the recovery from the original polio.

Nerve cells called motor neurons carry messages between the brain and muscles. Neurons have three parts: the cell body, an axon (a major branching fiber) and numerous smaller branching fibers called dendrites. Poliovirus damages or destroys motor neurons leaving the remaining neurons to produce new fibers. The surviving neurons then enlarge. While this process encourages recovery of muscles, it places stress on the nerve cell body to nourish the additional neuron fibers. Gradually the new dendrites shrink and the whole muscle weakens.


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 Post-polio Syndrome. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!


Whether or not a person develops post-polio syndrome and how severely they will be impacted depends on several factors;

  •    Age of person at onset of polio. If an individual contracted polio as an adolescent or adult, they are more likely to develop post-polio syndrome.
  •    Severity of original polio infection. The more severe the initial polio infection, the more likely a person will develop post-polio syndrome and severe symptoms.
  •    Physical Activity. If a person exercises to the point of exhaustion, they are more likely to develop PPS, possibly because they are overworking motor neurons that are already stressed.
  •    Recovery. Because a strong recovery places increased stress on motor neurons, it increases the chances that a person will develop PPS.


Diagnosis of post-polio syndrome is based on a person’s medical history, a neurological exam and elimination of other diseases through various tests.

A doctor will look for: 1) a previous diagnosis of polio; 2) an interval of at least 10 years since the original polio infection; and 3) a slow and steady deterioration of muscles. Treatment focuses on managing an individual’s symptoms for comfort and independence. Patients are advised to conserve energy by resting frequently and using assistive devices like canes and wheelchairs. Physical therapy, speech therapy, pain medications and treatments for sleep apnea may also be prescribed.


Post-polio syndrome is rarely life-threatening, but it can be especially disabling for people who had polio at a young age.

Some people have mild symptoms while the daily life of others is impacted significantly. Fatigue is the most common symptom and the most disabling. Muscle weakness can cause balance problems and lead to falls. Trouble chewing and swallowing can result in malnutrition and dehydration. Weak chest and diaphragm muscles can make it hard to breath or cough and cause chronic respiratory failure.


Qualifying for Disability for Post-polio Syndrome

The Social Security Administration includes post-polio syndrome in its list of disabling impairments under Section 11.11 of the Blue Book.

The disorder was previously called “Anterior Poliomyelitis” and the listing has been updated to include an additional method to meet the listing – having a serious physical problem as well as a serious problem in thinking, concentrating or interacting with others. To be eligible for Social Security Disability income, you must show that you had polio and have one of the following sets of symptoms:


  1.   Disorganization of motor function in two extremities (one arm and one leg or two arms and two legs), that causes difficulty standing up from a seated position, balancing while standing or walking, or using the arms.
  2. OR

  3.   Inability to speak clearly and intelligibly.
  4. OR

  5.   Weakness in muscles that control eating and swallowing resulting in the inability to breath without use of a ventilator or need for supplemental enteral nutrition.
  6. OR

  7.   Marked limitation in physical functioning and marked limitation in one of the following:

    1.    Understanding, remembering, or applying information; or
    2.   Interacting with others; or
    3.   Concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; or
    4.   Adapting or managing oneself.

Note that Social Security defines “marked” as worse than moderate and less than extreme.


You must provide medical proof of post-polio syndrome to Social Security in order to be approved for disability benefits.

Though you are not required to produce old medical records, the medical evidence should include:

  •    A description of the initial polio illness.
  •   Records that support the symptoms described in Social Security’s listing, such as difficulty speaking, swallowing, breathing.
  •   Details of your current physical impairments, including when they began and how severe they are.
  •   Doctors’ notes detailing tasks you are unable to perform and limitations caused by PPS that interfere with your ability to function independently.


If you have post-polio syndrome but your disability doesn’t match the listing criteria, you may still be approved for disability benefits if you can prove you are unable to work because of your physical limitations.

Social Security will conduct a Residual Functional Capacity assessment (RFC) to determine how your limitations affect your ability to work (called a medical vocational assessment), taking into account whether or not you are able to drive, your age, and your level of education. For example, if you have mobility issues, you may still be able to perform a sedentary job. However, if you suffer from extreme fatigue, you may not be able to do sedentary work. If your speech is difficult to understand, certain jobs may not be possible.


Additionally, if you have another impairment; for example, arthritis, you may still be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

Applicants often have more than one illness or injury that prevents them from working full time. One disorder alone may not meet the requirements of an impairment as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book, but, 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 have post-polio syndrome and it has prevented you from working, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

Filing for disability benefits can be an intimidating process. Having the guidance of an experienced Social Security Disability attorney can make the difference between a denial and a successful claim.


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.

  1.   The Duration of Work test.   Whether you have worked long enough to be covered under SSDI.
  2.   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.

  1.   Are you working?   Your disability must be “total”.
  2.   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.
  3.   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.
  4.   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.
  5.   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.


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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.


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Greg Reed disability lawyer
Author: Attorney Greg Reed has been practicing law for 29 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. Reed obtained board certification from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Greg is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and the United States Court of Appeals-Fifth Circuit. Mr. Reed is a member of the Travis County Bar Association, Texas Trial Lawyers Association, past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association, and an Associate member of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Mr. Reed and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.

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