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Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and Social Security Disability

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which is also commonly known as RSD, is a muscle disorder in which nerve and muscle damage and chronic pain are the primary symptoms. Most commonly affecting a single arm or leg, the condition is believed to result from nerve damage, when it’s associated with an injury. However, not all individuals with RSD have suffered an injury or experienced nerve damage. In these cases of RSD, the condition is believed to be a type of complex regional pain syndrome, which is an autoimmune disorder.

People with RSD can experience a range of symptoms, all of which are related to damaged nerves and the affect these nerves have on the regulation of blood flow to the region of the body the RSD impacts. The condition can affect the patient’s skin, muscles, blood vessels and bones in the region.

Some individuals with RSD have chronic symptoms but are able to manage them with medication and other therapies. Others who suffer from RSD, particularly when the disease is in its more advanced stages, have serious, permanent damage from the condition, including muscle tissue deterioration and significant chronic pain issues.

When diagnosed and treated in its early stages, RSD can be a manageable condition. When not detected early though, the disease can quickly progress and often leads to lasting debilitation and permanent disability.

Submitting a Disability Application with RSD

Though RSD is not a condition the Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes as being a common potentially disabling ailment, you can still qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits with RSD, provided you’re able to prove your condition is so debilitating that it prevents you from maintaining gainful employment.

You must still complete and submit the initial application for SSD, despite the fact that the SSA will need to review your application through other means – namely, by evaluating your residual functional capacity to determine if you qualify for disability under a medical vocational allowance.

Your Residual Functional Capacity Evaluation by the SSA

There is no listing for RSD in the Blue Book, which is the manual the SSA uses to review SSD applications for commonly disabling conditions. As such, you’ll be required to provide the SSA with additional information about your RSD and how it affects your ability to perform everyday tasks as well as typical job duties.

Most of this extra documentation will be achieved through forms known as “functional reports”. You’ll be required to complete one of these forms as will your primary care physician. In addition to the information obtained from these reports, the SSA will review your medical records thoroughly and will also look at your overall employment qualifications, including your job skills, your work history, your education level, and any other pertinent experience you’ve obtained over the course of your employment prior to becoming disabled.

The SSA will also take into consideration any psychological and mental affects your RSD has on you. Suffering from chronic pain and debilitating physical ailments can often lead to anxiety and depression. The affects of your anxiety or depression will also be included in the analysis of your residual functional capacity.

After reviewing all this data, the SSA will assign a residual functional capacity rating to you, which simply means they determine what you are and are not able to do in terms of typical job duties as a result of your RSD. If the SSA finds you’re unable to maintain gainful employment, then you’ll qualify for disability under a medical vocational allowance. A medical vocational allows just means that while you’re application for SSD benefits doesn’t meet a listed condition in the Blue Book, you are still disabled and medically qualified to receive benefits through the SSA’s disability programs.

Medical Evidence and Your RSD Disability Application

Medical records are a crucial component of any SSD application. They certainly play a central role in the determination of whether your RSD qualifies you to receive disability benefits when the SSA evaluates your residual functional capacity. To substantiate your claim for disability benefits, you should ensure your medical records include as many of the following as possible:

  • Diagnostic tests that date back to the original diagnosis of your RSD
  • Tests that also document the worsening of the illness over time, including the progressive loss of function with the arm or leg affected by the disease
  • A detailed statement from your physician which compares your functional capacity prior to the onset of your RSD, or your abilities early after your RSD diagnosis, with your functional capacity at present
  • Neurological exams that document the loss of muscle strength and the interruption of nerve signals in the affected region
  • Imaging exams performed with contrast to show muscle loss, decreased blood flow, and other organic affects of the disease
  • Records of any mental health care you’ve received for your psychological symptoms associated with your RSD

Seeking Assistance with your RSD Disability Claim

Because RSD is not considered a typically disabling condition by the SSA, and because the disease requires evaluation of residual functional capacity to be approved for disability benefits, you may want to seek help from a disability advocate or attorney when filing your application and in collecting the necessary evidence to support your claim. Most applications for disability filed on a diagnosis of RSD are initially denied. Even if you don’t seek assistance with your initial application, you may want to consider doing so when filing your appeal.