I can’t continue my job due to back pain. Can I get Social Security Disability benefits?

December 7, 2021 in
SSD 11

Back pain is an extremely common ailment. It is one of the most common reasons people miss work, and can seriously affect your ability to perform your job functions, especially if you have a very physical job that requires prolonged standing and lifting. Depending on the cause of your back pain, you may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.

In order to be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, one must have worked and paid taxes on their earnings. Social Security Disability benefits are available for those who have a severe impairment that has kept them from working which will last or is expected to last for at least one year. Social Security follows a 5 step process when determining your eligibility for benefits. First, you will establish your date of disability (known by Social Security as your Alleged Onset Date), and must not have earnings after that date that surpass “substantial gainful activity” levels. You also must have medical records which establish your alleged onset date – in other words, documentation that your pain began occurring around the date when you state that you became disabled and unable to work. Therefore, it is important to seek treatment from your providers when you are experiencing back pain.

Social Security will then move onto Step 2, where they will determine whether you have a severe impairment. For the purposes of Social Security disability, pain is not considered to be a severe impairment – rather, it is a symptom. For this reason, it is extremely important to get a specific diagnosis from your provider. There are several different conditions that may cause back pain. One of the most common is degenerative disc disease. This refers to wear and tear of the spinal discs and is most common in the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (lower back). Degenerative disc disease may lead to or accelerate other, more serious conditions of the spine which cause back pain. One common condition is spinal stenosis, where the bony openings (known as foramina) begin to narrow and reduce space for the nerves. This can happen within the spinal canal (the space within the spine where the spinal cord runs down the center), or in the intervertebral foramina. This can result in the spinal cord becoming compressed, resulting in pain, numbness, and tingling, or weakness. Another type of condition which may occur is degenerative spondylolisthesis. This occurs when one vertebra of the spine begins to slip forward over the one below it. In addition to wear & tear of the spine, back pain may be caused by an acute injury.

If you are experiencing back pain, it is important to seek treatment from medical providers. Your providers will order imaging of your spine, such as X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans. Your provider will then be able to provide a specific diagnosis for your back pain and identify which specific vertebrae of the spine are affected. In addition, imaging such as MRIs will be able to confirm whether the spinal cord is affected. Impingement on the spinal cord can result in numbness and weakness. The pain and numbness can also radiate to other parts of your body, such as your arms and legs. Spinal cord impingement at the cervical spinal level may affect your ability to use your hands as impact your ability to handle small objects or lift as much weight as you could prior to your condition. Severe spinal cord compression can also affect your ability to walk. One of the most severe conditions is cauda equina syndrome, which involves compression of the spinal nerve roots which continue below the spinal cord. This can cause problems with bladder and bowel incontinence and requires immediate medical attention to prevent permanent nerve damage.

Once your provider has diagnosed your condition through imaging, he or she may refer you to a specialist. An orthopedic surgeon will review your imaging and determine whether surgical intervention is necessary, and if so, which option is best for your condition. Some individuals with back pain undergo decompression surgeries, such as laminectomies with spinal fusion. You also may be referred to a pain management doctor to attempt to relieve your symptoms. Some individuals with back pain receive injections to manage the symptoms, such as epidural steroid injections. Others receive radiofrequency ablation (RFA), which is a minimally invasive procedure that disables the nerve fibers that are carrying the pain signal from the spinal cord to the brain. Your provider also may recommend that you undergo physical therapy to attempt to relieve your pain. Further, pain management may administer stronger medications such as hydrocodone to treat severe back pain. Diagnostic testing in the form of spinal imaging is crucial in establishing your case for Social Security Disability. In addition, if you are experiencing numbness in your hands as a result of your spinal condition, you may undergo a nerve conduction study such as an EMG, which will measure the electrical impulses produced by the nerves and responses of your muscles. This can be used to establish that you have diminished use of your hands as a result of your condition. If your condition is making it difficult to perform daily activities such as walking or personal hygiene, you may need to use an assistive device such as a cane or walker to ambulate, or household accommodations such as shower chairs or grab bars. It is important to obtain prescriptions for these items from your providers, even if you have already bought the items on your own or they were given to you by a friend or family member. In addition, if you have trouble walking long distances, you may want to discuss obtaining a disabled parking permit with your provider. Your provider can provide you with the necessary paperwork to start this process.

If you are experiencing back pain as a result of a diagnosed condition and are unable to continue working, LaBovick Law Group is here for you. Contact us at (561) 625-8400 for a free case evaluation.