Can I Work With a Spine Disorder?

Different Kinds of Spine Disorders

There are a number of distinct spine disorders, and any of them can make your life difficult. Many who suffer from spine disorders find that it is impossible to continue working or even performing their normal daily activities.

Spine disorders are among the more common conditions that can lead to permanent disability. Spine disabilities vary from arthritis to vertebra fractures. They have their own listing in the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book. Among the spine disorders specifically listed in the Blue Book are:

  • Facet arthritis
  • Vertebra fracture
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Herniated nucleus pulposus
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Spinal arachnoiditis
  • Degenerative disc disease

Of course, there are also other spinal disorders, and you may potentially qualify for Social Security Disability benefits even if your particular spinal disorder isn’t listed. In determining whether you qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, the SSA will consider distortion to the bones and ligaments in your spine and damage or pinching of the nerves.

If you have a spinal disorder, you should be under a physician’s care. Besides the fact that you will need to follow the doctor’s orders to get some relief from your symptoms, the Social Security Administration will consider what attempts have been made to treat your condition and your condition’s response to them when determining if you are eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. Review the Blue Book to see how you can qualify with a spinal disorder.

If you are unable to work because of a spine disorder, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Spine Disorders and your Ability to Perform Physical Work

While there are many different spinal disorders, and sufferers may have a number of different symptoms and varying degrees of severity, the majority of people with spine disorders will have some level of difficulty performing physical work. The spinal chord affects nearly every physical function of our bodies.

Most people with spine disorders will experience pain. It is important for Social Security Disability claims that you make very clear how your pain affects your range of motion and your ability to perform physical activities. This should be corroborated by the medical reports your doctor fills out. Make sure that all medical reports include concrete limitations of what you can and can’t do on a daily basis.

When considering your ability to do physical work, the Social Security Disability adjudicator will be particularly concerned with your spinal disorder’s impact on your ability to stand for long periods of time, walk, bend, pull, push, and lift.

To a large extent, the level of physical work you are considered capable of performing has to do with how much you can lift, and how often you can reasonably be expected to lift (occasionally or regularly). You will want to make sure your Social Security Disability claim includes information regarding limitations on how much you can lift and how long you can be expected to continue lifting.

Spine Disorders and Your Ability to Perform Sedentary Work

Sedentary work involves sitting in one place for extended periods of time. It often involves the ability to concentrate on complex tasks or utilize a high degree of manual dexterity. All of these are situations which some spine disorders could disrupt.

Generally speaking, younger Social Security Disability claimants and those who have specialized training or education will be expected to adapt to sedentary jobs (and thus disqualified for Social Security Disability benefits) if they are deemed able to do so. Older claimants (typically 55 and older) often aren’t expected to retrain for sedentary work if their work history exclusively involves physical work.

Medical Evidence To Prove That You Cannot Work

If you have a disabling spine disorder, you will want to apply for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. To have a successful claim and be approved for disability benefits, you will need to provide supporting medical evidence that shows the severity of your condition and how it affects your daily life as well as your ability to work.

The SSA uses the Blue Book, which is their medical guide, to determine if a claimant is disabled and unable to work and earn a living. The Blue Book has listings for different medical conditions and there are sections covering different body systems. You need to meet the medical criteria of a listing to be approved using the medical guide.

The Blue Book has listings that cover spinal disorders. Each listing has specific criteria that must be met for the claim to be approved. Some of the listings include nerve root compression, spinal stenosis, spinal arachnoiditis, ankylosing spondylitis, or a herniated or bulging disc. Facet arthritis is also considered using this listing. There are also listings for paralysis. Here is a breakdown of getting approved with some different spinal disorders:

  • As an example, to be approved with nerve root compression, you must show that you suffer from atrophy or weakening of muscles, limited range of motion, suffer from radiating pain and dulled reflexes and senses. An MRI that shows nerve root impingement is not required but would be helpful. This is a challenging listing to meet and be approved with.
  • Spinal stenosis is a condition that causes narrowing of the spinal canal that leads to compression of the spinal cord and nerves. A bulging or ruptured disc could cause this condition, but it is most often caused by aging. It can happen in either the lumbar or cervical spine. You will automatically be approved for disability benefits if you have pain in your thighs, lower back, and buttocks with weakness in the extremities; suffer from continuous pain of a non-radicular nature; require someone’s assistance or a medical device to walk; and/or you have a CT scan or an MRI confirming lumbar spine stenosis.
  • Spinal arachnoiditis – Caused by the inflammation of the arachnoid, the membrane surrounding the spinal cord to protect it, you must provide a pathology report from a biopsy, results from an imaging test, or an operative note indicating your condition which includes swelling and thickening of the nerve roots.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis, often considered an autoimmune disorder, is a kind of inflammatory arthritis or rheumatic disease that is an inflammatory condition that affects various body systems. To be approved using this listing, you must have a scan that shows there is a fixation of the dorsolumbar or cervical spine at 45.
  • To be approved with a bulging or herniated disc can be challenging. This is a condition caused by pressure being put on an intervertebral disc that causes protrusion of the disc. It is painful and mobility is affected. These issues often resolve themselves within a year, or they can be surgically repaired.

There are other conditions related to spinal disorders that are included in the Blue Book, such as different arthritic conditions or autoimmune disease. Your lawyer will help you determine which listing best matches your specific condition and will help you pursue your claim using that approach.

What If My Spine Disorder Doesn’t Meet a Listing

If you are disabled because of a spinal disorder, but your condition doesn’t meet the criteria of a listing, you may still be approved for disability benefits. You can use a medical vocational allowance to apply.

The medical vocational approach takes your medical condition, symptoms, restrictions and limitations, treatment, side effects, age, work history, transferrable skills, and educational background into consideration. As an example, those who are older than 50 and who have limited educational background and work history are much more likely to be approved than someone who is younger and well educated.

They take everything into consideration together to determine if you can perform any kind of work to earn a living. Part of this process involves using a residual functional capacity (RFC) form. If your treating physician will complete a form, you are much more likely to have a successful disability claim.

Your physician is much more familiar with your situation and will know what you can and cannot do. The RFC should be very detailed.

As an example, it will indicate how long you can stand, if you can bend or squat, if you can reach, if you can lift, how far you can walk, how often you must reposition, if you are unable to operate machinery or equipment, if you suffer from problems with memory and concentration, and so forth. The RFC is so detailed, it will indicate what you can and cannot do, painting a clear picture of how your overall daily life is affected and whether or not you can work and earn a living.

Your disability lawyer will help you gather the supporting documentation and medical records that you need to get your claim on the right track and be approved for benefits. Your disability attorney may even contact your doctors directly and ask them to complete the RFC forms, so he or she can review the form and ensure you have a strong case before it advances to the next level.

Often, claims are denied on the initial review. After that point, you will ask for a request for reconsideration. You will have the time to gather the necessary evidence that was missing from your initial review. Your denial will explain why your Social Security Disability attorney who knows how to navigate the system.