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Back Injuries and qualifying for Social Security Disability

While back pain can severely impact a person’s ability to work, the SSA does not make it easy for an individual to qualify for SS Disability benefits.

If I’m having back problems and it’s affecting my ability to work can I receive disability benefits?

According to the American Chiropractic Association, approximately 31 million Americans experience back pain at one time or another. Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and among the most common reasons for people missing work.

Back disability

If you have a serious back injury or disease you may qualify for Social Security disability or Long Term disability. There are deadlines to meet, please call 512-454-4000 for assistance with your claim today.

Back pain can be the result of aging, an accident, or a medical condition. While most back pain is short-term, lasting days or weeks, chronic back pain persists 12 weeks or longer, even after an injury or condition is treated.

Some examples of back problems include:

  •   Traumatic injury, such as a car accident or a sports injury.
  •   Disc degeneration, an age-related condition that happens when one or more of the discs between the vertebrae of the spinal column breaks down
  •   Herniated or ruptured disc, a condition that occurs when the rubbery cushions (discs) between the vertebrae of the spine become compressed and rupture.
  •   Radiculopathy, commonly called a pinched nerve, caused by compression of a nerve root in the spinal column.
  •   Spondylolisthesis, a condition where a vertebra of the spine slips out of place and pinches the nerves
  •   Sciatica, a type of radiculopathy, caused by compression of the sciatic nerve
  •    Spinal stenosis, a condition that results in the narrowing of the spinal column, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerves
  •   Skeletal irregularities, such as scoliosis (a curvature of the spine).

The cost of treating a back problem adds up if one considers the expense of insurance premiums and co-pays, doctors, chiropractors and specialists, pain medications, physical therapy and tests such as x-rays, MRIs and CT scans.

The average person with insurance pays $1,500 to $3,500 per year for treatment; back surgery can cost between $20,000 and $150,000.

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 back problems. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!

While back pain can severely impact a person’s ability to work, the Social Security Administration does not make it easy for an individual to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.

Social Security receives more applications for back problems than any other condition. To be eligible, you must have a “medically determinable” condition such as spinal stenosis, nerve root compression, herniated disc, or arachnoiditis that has lasted one year and you must provide medical evidence in the form of x-rays, MRIs and CT scans.

Back problems covered in Social Security’s Blue Book are listed under Section 1.04 Disorders of the Spine:

1.04 Disorders of the spine

(e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, vertebral fracture), resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including the cauda equina) or the spinal cord.


  1.    Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is involvement of the lower back, positive straight-leg raising test (sitting and supine);

  2. OR
  3.    Spinal arachnoiditis, confirmed by an operative note or pathology report of tissue biopsy, or by appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by severe burning or painful dysesthesia, resulting in the need for changes in position or posture more than once every 2 hours;

  4. OR
  5.    Lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudoclaudication, established by findings on appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by chronic nonradicular pain and weakness, and resulting in inability to ambulate effectively, as defined in 1.00B2b.

Social Security defines loss of function as “the inability to ambulate effectively on a sustained basis for any reason, including pain associated with the underlying musculoskeletal impairment, or the inability to perform fine and gross movements effectively on a sustained basis for any reason, including pain associated with the underlying musculoskeletal impairment.”

If your back condition does not match one of the impairments listed in Social Security’s Blue Book, you may still qualify for a Medical-Vocational Allowance. Social Security will perform a Residual Functioning Capacity (RFC) evaluation, taking into consideration your condition, symptoms and limitations along with your age, education, work experience and transferable skills.

Your doctor will need to complete a form detailing:

  1.    how often you change positions,
  2.    if you are unable to stand for more than one or two hours,
  3.    how far you can walk, and
  4.    if you need assistive devices to walk such as canes, crutches or a walker.

You will also need to provide information regarding any medication you are taking and how it affects you (i.e. drowsiness, dizziness).

As debilitating as back pain can be, it may still be very difficult to convince Social Security that you qualify for disability benefits.

Hiring a qualified disability attorney can increase your odds for approval substantially.

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 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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