Severe back pain can drastically limit or eliminate your employment options, even to handle sedentary jobs. Pain itself, however, is often difficult to measure. The Social Security Administration has specific requirements when it comes to disability benefits for back pain or injuries.
As with all disability claims, the SSA has a five-step approval process for back pain. You must have a condition that is severe, be unable to do the job you did previously and be unable to do other work.
An application must include thorough medical documentation of back pain as caused by a diagnosis on the agency’s Listing of Impairments. The Listing of Impairments does not cover all possible causes of back pain, however, and SSA allows leeway for diagnoses that are equivalent to those in the listing.
The Listing of Impairments categorizes back pain under disorders of the spine within the broader category of impairments of the musculoskeletal system. Impairments of the musculoskeletal system had more beneficiaries in 2011 than any other impairment, according to the SSA — approximately 31.5% of all beneficiaries, or 351,018 people. That is about three times the rate of the next highest diagnostic group, mood disorders (10.3%).
Disorders of the spine include pain rooted in apparent physical causes such as herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, and vertebral fracture. The disorder must compromise a nerve root or the spinal cord.
As evidence, the SSA requires certain physical tests, operative notes, pathology report of tissue biopsy, or imaging. The impact of the disorder must include motor loss, pain, weakness, or difficulty sitting or walking for certain periods of time.
Establishing a diagnosis and having the appropriate evidence is challenging for most applicants. The requirements differ by diagnosis and, in the midst of pain and income loss, can be confusing. Many applicants find it invaluable to hire a Social Security Disability attorney who is familiar and comfortable with the application process to prepare a strong case for approval.