Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Spinal Stenosis?
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons estimates that spinal stenosis affects 8 to 10 percent of the population.
The spine is made up of a column of bones called vertebrae that provide support for the upper body.
Nerves run through the openings in the vertebrae, conducting signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Spinal stenosis occurs when the spaces between the vertebrae narrow, putting pressure on the vertebrae and nerves that run from the spine to the arms and legs. Any damage to the nerves, bones, or tissues surrounding the spinal cord can affect a person’s balance, walking, and sensation.
There are three primary degenerative changes that lead to stenosis:
- Deterioration of discs that separate the vertebrae;
- Degradation of the surface of spinal joints (or facet joints); and
- Bone spurs.
Spinal stenosis can occur anywhere along the spine and is also referred to as pseudo-claudication, central spinal stenosis, or foraminal spinal stenosis.
There are two types of spinal stenosis; cervical stenosis occurs in the neck while lumbar stenosis, the most common form, occurs in the lower back. Spinal stenosis is a gradual process and initially there may be no symptoms, but evidence of spinal stenosis may appear on an MRI or CT scan.
Symptoms become worse over time and can be debilitating.
Common symptoms include:
- Weakness and/or numbness in the hands, arms, feet or legs
- Neck pain
- Back pain
- Difficulty walking or with balance
- Pain and cramping in one or both legs when standing or walking for long periods of time
The main cause of spinal stenosis is general wear and tear on bones and tissue as a person ages.
Tissue begins to thicken and bones become larger, compressing nerves. Though the majority of people affected are over the age of 50, age is not the only causal factor in spinal stenosis.
The following may also contribute to spinal stenosis:
- Spinal injuries from car accidents and other trauma;
- Scoliosis (spinal curvature)
- Defect of the spine at birth or a naturally narrow spinal cord
- Herniated disk
- Bone tumors
- Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Paget’s disease (causes bones to become fragile and misshapen)
- Achondroplasia (a form of dwarfism)
In order to diagnose spinal stenosis, a physician will first ask questions about a patient’s medical history.
Tests such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans and electromyograms will show images of the spine and evaluate nerve condition. Treatment of spinal stenosis depends on the location and severity of the condition. Usually medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen are prescribed to relieve and manage pain. Injections of cortisone may help as well as physical therapy and exercises to build strength and maintain flexibility.
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 Spinal Stenosis. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
If conservative measures do not yield satisfactory results, surgery may be considered, especially if a person experiences continued numbness and weakness that causes difficulty walking or standing, or causes bladder or bowel problems.
A surgeon will adjust, trim or take out the part of the spinal column that is causing pressure on the nerves and damaging nearby healthy tissue. Though surgery may increase mobility and relieve pain, it also carries the risk of infection and blood clots. Surgery may also tear a membrane that covers the spinal cord. These resulting problems can all be treated, but recovery would be delayed.
Physicians and researchers are now exploring more innovative techniques to manage spinal stenosis.
Stem cell therapy, also known as regenerative medicine, uses stem cells to promote the repair of diseased or injured tissue. Stem cell therapy can be used to replace or replenish cells that have been destroyed or damaged by osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis and contribute to spinal stenosis. Stem cells are the body’s cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. Stem cells can divide to form more cells called daughter cells which either become new stem cells or become specialized cells with a specific function, such as bone cells. The anti-inflammatory and angiogenic (promotes growth of new blood vessels) properties of adult stem cells help heal damaged tissues, manage deteriorating discs due to age and disease, and avoid bone spur formation.
Spinal stenosis can lead to muscle weakness and pain and numbness in the legs and back that prevents an individual from walking or standing for long periods of time.
Spinal stenosis is recognized by Social Security as an impairment that automatically qualifies for Social Security Disability benefits, provided an applicant meets the requirements of the listing.
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.
Social Security will expect an applicant to provide complete medical records including results of physical exams, imaging tests, treatments and medications that have been tried.
In order to be eligible for SSDI:
- The spinal stenosis must be in the lumbar region;
- The applicant must have an MRI or CT scan confirming spinal stenosis;
- The applicant must have chronic pain that does not radiate from a nerve;
- The applicant must have pain throughout the lower back, thighs, and buttocks;
- The applicant must have weakness in the lower extremities; and
- The applicant must be unable to walk without a walker or two crutches or someone to assist them.
If you have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis and are in pain, but able to get around without assistance, you will not qualify for SSDI under the requirements of this listing.
Still, spine issues can have a devastating impact on your ability to lift, sit or stand for long periods, walk, or bend over. Your inability to perform these tasks may render you unable to work and may qualify you for SSD benefits for a medical-vocational allowance, especially if you are over 55.
If you are suffering from Spinal Stenosis and it has impacted your ability to work, you may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.
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 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 disability lawyers of Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.
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