What Is Lumbar Stenosis?
It can often be the result of a bulging or ruptured disc in your back. There are several symptoms that you may experience with lumbar stenosis, including severe leg weakness, pain, and the loss of deep tendon reflexes. Pain can be aggravated by movement, particularly walking.
There are various treatment options available, but the kind chosen and its level of effectiveness is dependent upon the severity of your condition.
Surgical treatment options are also available but the effectiveness can vary and the approach used is dependent upon the severity of the symptoms that you are experiencing.
However, lumbar stenosis can be a very debilitating condition that negatively impacts your mobility and makes doing regular activities almost impossible.
Is Stenosis a Disability?
Lumbar spinal stenosis is one of the few back conditions recognized by the Social Security Administration (SSA) as being able to qualify for disability benefits. There is a Blue Book listing for lumbar stenosis which can be found under degenerative disc disease in the musculoskeletal section of the Blue Book under disorders of the spine. To be considered for Social Security disability benefits for stenosis, there must be compression of the nerve root or spinal cord.
Further Reading: What Conditions Qualify For Disability?
Disability Benefits for Spinal Stenosis
If you suffer from severe pain in your legs and back which prevents you from walking or standing for extended periods of time, you should have a high chance of being eligible for disability benefits. Spinal stenosis is when the space in the spinal canal narrows. It may occur in both the cervical (neck) and/or lumbar (lower back) areas of the spine. This narrowing could lead to compression or squeezing of the spinal cord and nerves, which, in turn, can lead to the following symptoms:
- leg and arm muscle weakness;
- loss of deep tendon reflexes (DTR);
- the presence of numbness and pain in the legs, back and buttocks.
Spinal stenosis may also be caused by the natural aging process when the vertebral discs become smaller and drier as fluid dries up or from a spinal injury which has caused nerve compression.
Many patients who have become victims of stenosis can’t work due to chronic pain in their legs and back and they are unable to walk without assistance or stand for long periods of time. Fortunately, lumbar spinal stenosis is a back condition that is recognized by the Social Security Administration (SSA) for disability benefits and it appears in the Blue Book under listing 1.16. You will need to provide evidence showing you are suffering the following symptoms:
- non-radiating pain in one or both legs;
- non-radiating loss of feeling in one or both legs;
- neurogenic claudication (pain or cramping caused by nerve compression)
- neurological signs that are found at a physical examination or test, like muscle weakness, and either sensory changes such as a decrease in sensation, sensory nerve deficit, traumatic ulcers, or bladder or bowel incontinence or a decrease in deep tendon reflexes in one or both legs;
- imaging results or an operative (post-surgery) report indicating that stenosis is present in the bundle of nerve roots at the bottom of the spinal cord.
Lumbar Radiculopathy as a Disability
Lumbar Radiculopathy is a disease present in the lumbar spinal nerve root which causes pain, numbness, or weakness of the leg and buttocks. It is often called sciatica which is normally caused by a compression of the spinal nerve root. This results in the presence of pain in the leg rather than in the lumbar spine. This is called "referred pain." Lumbar radiculopathy might occur when the spinal nerve roots are irritated or compressed by one of many medical conditions such as:
- spinal stenosis,
- osteophyte formation,
- lumbar disc herniation,
- foraminal stenosis.
People who suffer from lumbar radiculopathy have difficulties with walking, standing up, lying down and moving. If the sufferers occupation requires physical ability such as climbing, lifting or lifting, from, they cannot work. When applying for a disability benefit, it is helpful for a physician to conduct a residual function capacity test (RFC) which will help prove to the SSA that you can longer work.
Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits with Lumbar Stenosis
If you suffer from lumbar stenosis that has symptoms so severe that your ability to perform daily activities are impacted, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Lumbar spinal stenosis may qualify for Social Security disability if your condition meets the SSA's Blue Book listing for lumbar stenosis.
Lumbar stenosis can have a significant impact on your mobility, as it causes your spinal canal to narrow.This results in the compression of your spinal cord and nerves.
How Lumbar Stenosis Can Impact Your Ability to Work
Because of the severe pain and impacted mobility, you can’t perform work duties that involve walking, lifting, or carrying. The severe pain and how movement impacts it can also make you shift frequently so you can’t stay in one position long.
In addition to causing problems standing and walking, you may have trouble sitting for long because of the pressure inflicted on the lumbar region of your spine. Hand and arm motions can make the pain more intense, so you may not be able to move or inspect items for work.
Because the pain will radiate, you can experience pain in all your limbs. You can experience pain in your thighs, lower back, and buttocks, and you could have severe weakness throughout your lower extremities.
This severe discomfort can make staying in one position for more than a few minutes unbearable. Because of your frequent repositioning requirements, it can be almost impossible to perform any kind of work duties.
Can I Work With Lumbar Stenosis? Limitations for Specific Jobs
Lumbar stenosis can hinder your ability from performing any kind of job. Because of the severe pain and mobility issues, you cannot work construction, drive heavy machinery, or work for a utility company.
You can’t perform shipping and receiving jobs, do stock, or be a warehouse associate because you are unable to lift, carry, reach, climb ladders, or operate a tow motor.
When it comes to much more sedentary work duties, you are negatively impacted as well. The radiating pain can worsen with arm movements, so you can’t do data entry and filing. Answering busy phones is impossible when you are frequently repositioning and in constant pain.
Medical Evidence You Need
If your lumbar stenosis is affecting your ability to work full time, then you should consider applying for SSDI. When you apply for disability benefits, you need to make sure you have as much medical evidence as possible to back up your claim.
You should consult with the SSA's Blue Book before applying, there it will tell you what the SSA looks for when applying for disability benefits with lumbar stenosis. You should have your doctor examine the spine and have results from a sitting and lying straight leg raise test.
You should also include any as x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs of the spine. If you had a surgical procedure on your spine, you should also include a surgical report. Your Social Security attorney will be able to help you make sure all of your medical documents are in order.
What Is A Trial Work Program?
If you are disabled and receiving Social Security Disability benefits, the time may come when you want to go back to work. If your condition improves, you may want to do a trial work period. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers those receiving disability benefits the opportunity to participate in a trial work program. The trial work period is a nine-month grace period given by the SSA to those receiving disability benefits who want to try to re-enter the workforce. An individual who receives disability benefits has a nine-month trial period for work every 60 months.
The trial work period allows you to determine if your medical condition has improved to the point that you think you may be able to return to the workforce and earn a living. During this nine-month trial period, you can work and earn money without jeopardizing your disability benefits. Participation in the program is contingent upon your reporting your work activity to the SSA, along with your expenses and your income. Even after the end of the trial work period you can receive disability benefits for any month in which you don’t exceed the substantial gainful activity (SGA) amount, which is currently $1,470 per month for disabled workers and $2,460 per month for those who are blind. If you make more than the SGA amount, you will not receive disability benefits.
Even if your income limits exceed the SGA and your disability benefits are stopped, you will still be able to receive Medicare Part A for at least 93 months after your trial period if you still need medical care. You will have the option of continuing Part A for a premium, and you will just keep paying your premium for Part B as you have done in the past. While you may be successful with your attempt to re-enter the workforce, your medical condition or disability could once again get worse, and you may be forced to stop working again.
If you must stop work again within the next five years, you will be eligible for expedited reinstatement, which means that you don’t have to reapply for disability and you don’t have to wait to receive disability benefits while your medical condition is under review. The limits for the trial work period, however, aren’t the same as the SGA limits. The trial work period limit is only $1,050 per month compared to $1,470 per month for SGA. If you are receiving disability benefits, it is important to avoid using up your trial work period inadvertently by making more than $1,050 each month.
You want to make sure your trial period is used wisely, so you don’t end up running out of your trial period before you need to and want to. You don’t want to inadvertently lose your disability benefits when you don’t believe you are able to work and earn a regular living. Be sure to ask questions and maintain documentation.
If you are on disability benefits and receive passive income, that will usually not affect your monthly disability benefits. Examples of passive income may be rental income from another property that you own. It is money that is earned that requires little to no daily effort to keep it up and going or to maintain. Other examples include interest from savings accounts or investments or royalties from a book you have written.
You will need to keep track of this income for tax purposes, and you should keep documentation that shows it is passive income should any questions arise when you file your taxes and the SSA sees your income reported. Don’t hesitate to ask the SSA any questions regarding your passive income and whether your disability benefits are jeopardized.
The SSA applies specific tests, which are dependent on the length of time that the individual has received disability benefits, to determine if an individual is doing work above and beyond the current SGA level. If you have been receiving disability benefits for two years, you can actually make a substantial amount of income just so long as you don’t exceed the monthly 45-hour limit.
Your income is considered after deductions are taken. They consider business expenses and the cost of you – with your disability – being able to do the job. This may include prescription medications, medical devices, and specialized equipment that allow you to use a computer or operate a vehicle or a machine. Be sure to keep track of all your expenses and maintain a file of receipts. You will also need to keep detailed records that show your time put into the job as well as your earnings.
Consult With A Disability Attorney
If you are receiving disability benefits and you are considering returning to work, you should consult with a disability attorney. Or, if you have returned to work after being approved for disability benefits and you think you should still qualify for disability benefits but the SSA has stopped your benefits, you should consult with a disability lawyer who handles such cases in your area. A disability attorney will understand the process and will know whether you still qualify for disability benefits. Complete the Free Case Evaluation Form on this page to share the details of your claim.
Talk to a Social Security Attorney Today
If your lumbar stenosis is impacting your ability to work, you should consult with a Social Security attorney. Your attorney will be able make sure all your supporting evidence gets to Disability Determination Services and help you build a strong case.
Your odds of being approved for benefits improve greatly when you are represented by an attorney. Having an attorney will make this process easier for you, and it will give you a better chance of winning your case.