How To Apply For Disability Benefits With A Spinal Condition

If you have a disabling spinal condition as a result of an injury or medical condition and now you can’t work, you can apply for Social Security disability benefits. Disability benefits can help make ends meet and pay for basic living expenses like rent and food when you are unable to work because of a spinal condition.

Follow these steps to apply for Social Security disability benefits:

Step 1: Determine How Your Spinal Condition Limits You

One of the conditions that you must meet in order to be approved for disability benefits is being unable to work at your current or most recent job for at least 12 months. You also must be unable to do any of the types of work that you’ve done in the past. And you will have to show evidence that your spinal condition impacts your ability to perform daily life activities like getting around, getting dressed, sitting or standing for long periods of time, or being able to drive or take public transportation.

Step 2: Consult the Blue Book For a Spinal Condition

Everyone that applies for disability benefits has to meet the SSA’s Blue Book requirements in order to be eligible for approval. The Blue Book contains listings for all the—more than 200—different medical conditions that the SSA sees as being eligible for disability benefits. Every listing has a set of requirements. You will need to submit medical records and evidence showing you meet those requirements before your application for benefits is approved. To qualify for disability benefits with a spinal condition you must show that you have:

A. Neuro-anatomic (radicular) distribution of one or more of the following symptoms consistent with compromise of the affected nerve root(s):

  1. Pain; or
  2. Paresthesia; or
  3. Muscle fatigue.


B. Radicular distribution of neurological signs present during physical examination or on a diagnostic test and evidenced by 1, 2, and either 3 or 4:

  1. Muscle weakness; and
  2. Sign(s) of nerve root irritation, tension, or compression, consistent with compromise of the affected nerve root
  3. Sensory changes evidenced by:
    1. Decreased sensation; or
    2. Sensory nerve deficit (abnormal sensory nerve latency) on electrodiagnostic testing; or
  4. 4. Decreased deep tendon reflexes.


C. Findings on imaging consistent with compromise of a nerve root(s) in the cervical or lumbosacral spine.


D. Impairment-related physical limitation of musculoskeletal functioning that has lasted, or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at least 12 months, and medical documentation of at least one of the following:

  1. A documented medical need for a walker, bilateral crutches, or bilateral canes or a wheeled and seated mobility device involving the use of both hands or
  2. An inability to use one upper extremity to independently initiate, sustain, and complete work-related activities involving fine and gross movements (see 1.00E4), and a documented medical need (see 1.00C6a) for a one-handed, hand-held assistive device (see 1.00C6d) that requires the use of the other upper extremity or a wheeled and seated mobility device involving the use of one hand or
  3. An inability to use both upper extremities to the extent that neither can be used to independently initiate, sustain, and complete work-related activities involving fine and gross movements

You must include doctor’s notes, MRI scans, X-rays, and other documentation proving you meet these requirements.

Step 3: Gather Required Documents

In addition to the medical documentation that you need to submit you will need to include copies of your proof of citizenship, your state ID like a driver’s license or passport, your tax information, and your birth certificate.

Step 4: Speak With a Disability Attorney

The process of applying for disability benefits can be confusing. It may help to speak with an attorney that specializes in disability cases.

Fill out the Free Case Evaluation on this page to get connected with an independent, participating attorney who can help you with your claim.

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