Can Spinal Stenosis qualify for SS Disability Benefits?
Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Spinal stenosis?
Author: Attorney Greg Reed
Spinal stenosis is a condition that primarily affects both men and women over the age of 50. The spine is a column of small bones called vertebrae that run from the neck to the lower back, providing support for the upper body. Nerves in the spine travel through the openings in the vertebrae, conducting signals from the brain to the rest of the body. These spinal nerves form the spinal cord. The bones surrounding the spinal cord protect the nerves and if damaged, can affect walking, balance and sensation. If you are suffering from the effects of Spinal stenosis you may qualify for disability benefits.
Spinal stenosis occurs when the spaces within the spine narrow, putting pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine.
Spinal stenosis usually develops slowly and can occur anywhere in the spine, but there are two main types: cervical spinal stenosis where narrowing of spaces in the spine occurs in the neck, and lumbar spinal stenosis where narrowing occurs in the lower back. Lumbar spinal stenosis is the most common form.
Some people with spinal stenosis have no symptoms, but others experience pain, numbness, tingling and muscle weakness.
In cervical spinal stenosis, the most common symptoms include:
- Weakness in hands, arms, feet or legs;
- Neck pain;
- Difficulty with walking or balance;
- Numbness or tingling in arms, hands, feet or legs;
- Bladder or bowel dysfunction (in severe cases).
In cases of lumbar spinal stenosis, a person may experience the following:
- Pain and/or cramping in one or both legs when walking or standing for long periods of time that eases when sitting or bending forward;
- Numbness and tingling in feet and legs;
- Weakness in feet or legs;
- Back pain.
- Cauda equina syndrome. This is a rare, serious condition that affects a bundle of nerve roots called cauda equina at the base of the spine. Pressure in this area can cause an individual to lose feeling in the pelvic area.
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!
The main cause of spinal stenosis is arthritis, the wear and tear over time on the cushioning between vertebrae.
Some people are born with a narrow spinal canal, but in other individuals spinal stenosis occurs when something narrows the spaces in the spine.
Other conditions which may lead to spinal stenosis include:
- Herniated disks.
- Thickened ligaments. Ligaments that hold the bones of the spine together can become stiff over time and bulge into the spinal canal.
- Bone spurs on the spine.
- Tumors on the spinal cord.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Spinal injuries; for example, from a car accident or other trauma.
- Ankylosing spondylitis – a type of arthritis that leads to bone spurs.
- Achondroplasia – an inherited condition which interferes with bone formation in the spine.
- Congenital spinal stenosis -a birth defect where the spine is naturally narrow.
To diagnose spinal stenosis, a doctor will ask about signs and symptoms and conduct a medical exam.
They will also order a number of imaging tests, such as x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans, an electromyogram to check the health of spinal nerves and a bone scan to look for damage in the bones. Treatment typically includes pain medications, cortisone injections into the spine, and physical therapy. In severe cases, for example, if spinal stenosis affects an individual’s ability to walk, surgery may be recommended.
Qualifying for Disability for Spinal stenosis
Spinal stenosis can easily impact a person’s daily activities and prevent an individual from working.
The SSA does not specifically mention cervical spinal stenosis in its Blue Book, but it does have a listing for lumbar spinal stenosis, Section 1.16. However, qualifying for disability under this impairment is complicated and an applicant should ask their doctor to help them determine if they meet the criteria.
To qualify you must have ALL of the following:
- One sign of neurological compromise in the cauda equina. This can be:
- Nonradicular (non-radiating) distribution of pain in a leg or foot; OR
- Nonradicular distribution of sensory loss in a leg or foot; OR
- Neurogenic claudication (intermittent leg pain).
- A diagnostic test or clinical exam showing nonradicular neurological signs of muscle weakness and sensory changes evidenced by one of the following:
- Decreased sensation; OR
- Sensory nerve deficit on electrodiagnostic testing; OR
- Lack of reflexes, trophic ulceration, bladder or bowel incontinence; OR
- Decreased deep tendon reflexes in one or both lower extremities.
An MRI, CT scan or other imaging, or in an operative report showing compromise of the cauda equina with lumbar spinal stenosis.
- Physical limitation of musculoskeletal functioning related to lumbar spinal stenosis that has lasted, or is expected to last at least 12 months, and medical documentation of at least one of the following:
- A documented medical need for a walker, bilateral canes or crutches or a wheelchair or scooter that involves the use of both hands; OR
- An inability to use one hand and need to use the other to operate a one-handed wheelchair, cane, crutch, or other device.
You will need to provide detailed medical records to Social Security that include:
- Notes from a detailed medical exam (including testing of reflexes and muscle strength);
- Medications you are taking and side effects;
- Treatments such as physical therapy and steroid injections;
- Results of MRIs and CT scans;
- Doctors’ notes regarding your physical limitations, such as whether you need a cane or how long you are able to stand.
If you are able to walk without assistance, you will not qualify for SSDI automatically.
Instead, Social Security will conduct a Residual Functioning Capacity (RFC) assessment to evaluate how spinal stenosis affects your capacity to perform your job and daily activities. Social Security will review your imaging tests and doctor’s records, particularly their notes on your functional limitations, to decide if your spinal stenosis prevents you from working. Social Security will also consider your age, level of education, and work skills. If you are older than 55 with few transferable work skills and less education, your chances for being approved are greater. If you are suffering from cervical spinal stenosis, Social Security will evaluate your impairment in the same way.
Additionally, if you have other medical conditions, Social Security must consider how those health issues, combined together, limit your ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks.
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 you have multiple medical conditions, Social Security must consider how those health issues, combined together, limit your ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks.
The Social Security Administration revised its Musculoskeletal Disorders listings in April 2021, making it more difficult to qualify for disability benefits with those impairments.
If you have spinal stenosis, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Income; however, you will need to depend on your medical providers to submit the needed medical evidence of your functional limitations and restrictions. An experienced Social Security Disability attorney can help you by contacting your doctor and gathering all the information you need to ensure 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.
- 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 Lonnie Roach 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. Because of his extensive litigation experience Mr. Roach is board certified from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lonnie is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Roach is a member of the Texas trial lawyers association, has been active in the Austin Bar Association and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Roach and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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