Individuals with degenerative disc disease (DDD) who are unable to work may be eligible for financial assistance from the Social Security Administration (SSA). To be considered for a disability award for DDD, individuals must meet specific criteria as outlined in the Blue Book.
The Blue Book is an online manual created by the SSA to assist in the determination of disability benefits. Sometimes referred to as the “Listing of Impairments,” the Blue Book lists the various health conditions that might qualify for an individual for disability benefits.
Divided into 14 different body systems, the Blue Book also includes the medical evidence needed for disability consideration.
How Can I Qualify for Disability Benefits with DDD?
Degenerative Disc Disease is included in the musculoskeletal section of the Blue Book under disorders of the spine, section 1.04. To be considered for Social Security disability benefits for DDD, there must be compression of the nerve root or spinal cord.
Also, one of the following three criteria must be met:
- Evidence of nerve root compression that causes nerve pain, limitation of spine motion, muscle weakness that causes motor loss accompanied by sensory or reflex loss, and a lying and sitting straight-leg raising test if the DDD is in the lower spine.
- Inflammation of the arachnoid, the membrane that surrounds and protects the spinal cord, which results in pain. The spinal arachnoiditis must be confirmed by an operative note, pathology report of tissue biopsy, or by appropriate medically acceptable imaging such as a CT scan or MRI. The patient must experience severe burning or painful dysesthesia, resulting in the need for frequent position changes at least every two hours.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudo claudication that manifests as chronic nerve pain and weakness, resulting in an inability to ambulate effectively, such as the required use of a walker, wheelchair, crutches, or canes.
What Medical Evidence Do I Need for My DDD Claim?
The Blue Book is a resource for understanding what medical evidence the SSA will require when evaluating a claim. Individuals who are seeking disability benefits for DDD will need to provide specific evidence to support their application.
According to the Blue Book, the diagnosis of DDD needs to be supported by a detailed description of the spine and affected body systems.
The medical evidence should include a range of motion of the spine in degrees from the vertical position of zero degrees, the condition of the muscles such as weakness or atrophy, and sensory changes or reflex caused by nerve compression, and any circulatory deficits. A lying and sitting straight-leg raise test should be included in your detailed physical exam.
Additionally, your physician should document any limitations that you have as a result of your DDD, including the need for any assistive devices such as a wheelchair, walker, or canes. Your doctor should document findings during your physical exam, such as how well you get on and off the exam table, how well you walk, and if you can squat and rise to a standing position.
Because the symptoms of DDD sometimes wax and wane, a longitudinal record is important to demonstrate the progression or consistency of your symptoms.
The SSA will want to confirm your DDD diagnosis with appropriate imaging such x-rays, CAT scans, or MRI findings. If you have required surgery, such as a discectomy, all of the surgeon’s operative notes will need to be included in your records.
Finally, you will need to report all of the prescribed treatments that you have undergone, as well as your response to those treatments.
Should I Hire A Lawyer to Help Me with My DDD Claim?
All conditions in the Blue Book need to last, or be expected to persist, for at least one year. Some individuals with DDD can face challenges when seeking disability benefits due to the intermittent nature of DDD symptoms.
An experienced Social Security lawyer can help enhance your chance of winning your disability claim by reviewing the evidence that you have on hand and determining if additional medical documentation is needed to support your claim.
Your lawyer will serve as your advocate, working hard to help you earn the financial assistance that you deserve.