Social Security Disability for Back or Spine

This page contains information on Social Security Disability for back disabilities including, herniated disc, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, vertebral fracture, spinal arachnoiditis.

Cervical and Lumbar Back Disorders and Social Securitys Medical Listings.

For any back disorder the first thing to do when pursuing Social Security Disability is to examine the medical listing of impairments for disorders of the spine.  If you meet or equal the listing Social Security will find you disabled for SSDI or SSI.  The following is listing 1.04 but the entire listing for the musculoskeletal system should be read to fully understand this listing.

1.04 Disorders of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, vertebral fracture), resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including the cauda equina) or the spinal cord. With:

A. Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is involvement of the lower back, positive straight-leg raising test (sitting and supine);


B. Spinal arachnoiditis, confirmed by an operative note or pathology report of tissue biopsy, or by appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by severe burning or painful dysesthesia, resulting in the need for changes in position or posture more than once every 2 hours;


C. Lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudoclaudication, established by findings on appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by chronic nonradicular pain and weakness, and resulting in inability to ambulate effectively, as defined in 1.00B2b.

Notice to meet listing 1.04C. it states must have an inability to ambulate effectively.  Social Security defines this as:   Inability to ambulate effectively means an extreme limitation of the ability to walk; i.e., an impairment(s) that interferes very seriously with the individual's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. Ineffective ambulation is defined generally as having insufficient lower extremity functioning (see 1.00J) to permit independent ambulation without the use of a hand-held assistive device(s) that limits the functioning of both upper extremities. (Listing 1.05C is an exception to this general definition because the individual has the use of only one upper extremity due to amputation of a hand.)

(2) To ambulate effectively, individuals must be capable of sustaining a reasonable walking pace over a sufficient distance to be able to carry out activities of daily living. They must have the ability to travel without companion assistance to and from a place of employment or school. Therefore, examples of ineffective ambulation include, but are not limited to, the inability to walk without the use of a walker, two crutches or two canes, the inability to walk a block at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces, the inability to use standard public transportation, the inability to carry out routine ambulatory activities, such as shopping and banking, and the inability to climb a few steps at a reasonable pace with the use of a single hand rail. The ability to walk independently about one's home without the use of assistive devices does not, in and of itself, constitute effective ambulation.

As you will notice there is allot of medical termonology here and it can be difficult to know if you actually meet this listing.  It will take a doctor to determine that the evidence in your file supports the fact that you meet or equal this listing.  It is important for you to know what evidence you need in the file that Social Security will use to determine if you meet or equal this listing.  Detailed physical exams performed by doctors and preferabbly by orthopedic doctors are essential.  They should include detailed evaluation of the back including range of motion, condition of musculature (examples: weakness and atrophy), sensory or reflex loss, and circulation defecits.  You should also have all your medical imageing in the file including any MRIs, X Rays and CAT scans.  Electrodiagnostic procedures such as an EMG can also be helpful.  The physical exam should be based on the objective observations of the doctor and not on subjective complaints of the patient.  Social Security says examination of the spine should include the following:   

Examination of the spine should include a detailed description of gait, range of motion of the spine given quantitatively in degrees from the vertical position (zero degrees) or, for straight-leg raising from the sitting and supine position (zero degrees), any other appropriate tension signs, motor and sensory abnormalities, muscle spasm, when present, and deep tendon reflexes. Observations of the individual during the examination should be reported; e.g., how he or she gets on and off the examination table. Inability to walk on the heels or toes, to squat, or to arise from a squatting position, when appropriate, may be considered evidence of significant motor loss. However, a report of atrophy is not acceptable as evidence of significant motor loss without circumferential measurements of both thighs and lower legs, or both upper and lower arms, as appropriate, at a stated point above and below the knee or elbow given in inches or centimeters. Additionally, a report of atrophy should be accompanied by measurement of the strength of the muscle(s) in question generally based on a grading system of 0 to 5 , with 0 being complete loss of strength and 5 being maximum strength. A specific description of atrophy of hand muscles is acceptable without measurements of atrophy but should include measurements of grip and pinch strength.

You probably read the above and still don't know if you meet or equal a listing but you should have an idea of the information you need in your file for a doctor to determine if you do.  The ideal situation is to have your treating doctor look at the entire medical listing for musculoskeletal system and give his opinion to Social Security as to whether you meet or equal any of the listings and a detailed report supported by medical findings as to why.

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Back Disability Based on Your Limitations.

If you don't meet or equal the medical listings of Social Security then you must prove disability based on how the limitations from your back disorder in combination with any limitations from other conditions you have would prevent you from doing your past relevant work.  If you are able to show you can not perform your past work the question becomes is there a significant number of other work you could do.  At this point it might be a good idea to take a look at the page in this site called "are you disabled?" it will show you the steps on how Social Security determines if you are disabled in a Social Security Disability or SSI claim.

To show your limitations from your back condition whether it is herniated disc, spinal stenosis, spinal arachnoiditis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, vertebral fracture or any other back disorder you will need Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) Forms filled out by your treating doctors.  These forms, also called Ability To Do Work Related Activity Forms, show how you are limited from your back condition and other medical conditions.  In a nut shell if these forms are supported by the medical evidence and they show you can not perform the duties of your previous occupation or a significant number of other jobs, Social Security will find you disabled.  There are many factors that go into this and you should also read the page on the GRID Rules.  After reading the section on the GRID Rules you will see that age ,education and past work experience all factor in to determine if you are disabled.

Your chances of winning disability for purely a back impairment is much greater if you are 50 years old or older and past relevant work was performed at light, medium or heavy levels and you have no transferable skills.  In this situation the GRID Rules will direct a finding of disabled if you are limited to sedentary work.  For those who are younger than fifty years old or those who are 50 years old or older and have past relevant work considered sedentary, your case is more difficult because you have to show you can't even do sedentary work.  This is general information and you must get a good understanding of how Social Security determines if you are disabled and how it relates to your particular case.

So how do you prove you can't do a significant number of sedentary jobs?  There are limitations caused by back disorders that can affect ones ability to perform sedentary work.  Some of these are an inability to sit for more than short periods of time, inability to stoop, pain or medication affecting ones ability to concentrate or stay focused, and cervical radiculopathy affecting ones use of arms or hands.  It is also very common for those with serious back impairments to suffer from depression.  If you are suffering from depression it is important that you have all records and an RFC from you psychiatrist showing any mental limitations from your depression.  You may also have other medical conditions that limit you in other ways.          

 We have attempted to provide up to date and accurate information, however the information in this site is not guaranteed.  No attorney client relationship exist.  The information in this site is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified attorney.
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If you are trying to get SSD or SSI for your back injury call us at 1-877-527-5529 we are disability lawyers that can help you get the Social Security Disability you deserve.