Types of Spine Disorders That May Qualify for Disability

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Conditions affecting the spine can have a significant impact on a person’s capacity to work and perform daily tasks. Without a way to earn a living, these types of medical conditions can leave sufferers feeling vulnerable and uncertain. Fortunately, individuals who are unable to work because of spine disorders or injuries may be eligible for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits.

Social Security Disability offers disabled individuals access to essential financial support. These benefits can come in the form of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Filing for disability with the Social Security Administration (SSA) with a spinal condition does not guarantee claim approval. Understanding which spine-related disabilities qualify for benefits can provide valuable insight and direction when filing a claim.

Can Spinal Disorders & Injuries Qualify for Disability?

If you’re suffering from a spinal injury or medical condition, you might be asking, “What injuries or spine disorders qualify for disability benefits?”

Any spinal condition that impacts a person’s ability to perform Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) can qualify for SSD. A few common conditions that may qualify include spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, and spinal fractures.

How Injuries & Disorders Impact the Structure of the Spine

The spinal column consists of vertebrae, which are the bones that make up the structure of the spine. To better understand the anatomy of the spine, we can divide it into three main parts. These include the cervical spine (the upper portion), thoracic spine (the middle portion), and lumbar spine (the lower back). Bones known as the sacrum and coccyx sit below the lumbar spine.

Spine-related medical conditions often damage the spinal structure, surrounding tissues, and impact nerve function. Medical issues that may cause these symptoms include:

  • Bone and spinal cord injuries
  • Infections
  • Tumors
  • Musculoskeletal disorders, such as spinal osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease
  • Nerve root impingement caused by spinal abnormalities, such as an arthritic spur, tumor, or herniated disc

Spinal Conditions That May Be Eligible for Disability Benefits

So, what are some specific conditions and spinal disorders that can qualify for disability benefits? The following impairments may be eligible for Social Security Disability:

  • Herniated Disc: A herniated disc occurs when a disc cushioning spinal vertebrae bulges. It then presses against spinal nerves and causes back pain. Herniated discs can also cause numbness, pain, or weakness in the arms and legs, trouble balancing or walking, bladder issues, sexual dysfunction, and other symptoms.
  • Scoliosis: Scoliosis is a condition where the spine curves, usually in an “S” or “C” shape. Although many individuals with mild cases do not experience major side effects, severe scoliosis can cause pain, respiratory issues, and physical limitations.
  • Osteoarthritis: In patients with osteoarthritis of the spine (spondylosis), cartilage surrounding joints and discs breaks down. Over time, this can cause severe pain, stiffness, inflammation in the affected areas, and decreased mobility. Patients may also experience disc degeneration or bone spurs, which can pinch the spinal cord.
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis: Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of spondyloarthritis. Ankylosing spondylitis results in inflammation of the spinal joints. In severe cases, multiple vertebrae may merge, leading to a curvature in the back. Ankylosing spondylitis can lead to severe, chronic back pain and limited range of motion.
  • Spinal Stenosis: This condition causes one or multiple areas within the spinal canal to shrink. The spinal canal is the passageway that runs through each vertebra in the spine and houses the spinal cord. When there is reduced space in the canal, it puts pressure on the spinal cord and the nerve roots that extend from it, causing pain. Other symptoms may include muscle weakness in the lower extremities, numbness, tingling, leg cramps, balance issues, and more.
  • Vertebral Fractures: Fractures of the vertebrae can occur due to osteoporosis, trauma, and various other conditions. The impact of these fractures can range from pain and restricted movement to changes in spinal alignment.
  • Spinal Cord Injury: Different degrees of paralysis and functional impairment can occur with traumatic spinal cord injuries.
  • Degenerative Disc Disease: This condition involves the gradual deterioration of the spinal discs that cushion the vertebrae. Patients may experience symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion.
  • Sciatica: Sciatica is characterized by back pain resulting from problems with the sciatic nerve. It mainly causes pain that radiates from the lower back down the leg. Sciatica may cause weakness, numbness, and tingling in the affected leg or foot. Patients can also experience difficulty bending forward or backward, poor reflexes, limited mobility, etc.
  • Nerve Root Compression: Nerve root compression is often caused by conditions like herniated discs, stenosis, and other spinal issues. Depending on symptom severity, it can affect a patient’s ability to work, potentially qualifying them for disability benefits. Long term side effects of spinal cord compression can permanently impact other parts of the body, even causing paralysis.
  • Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES): The nerve roots located at the end of the spinal cord extend further down the spinal canal. This bundle of nerves is known as the cauda equina. CES occurs when there is impairment or dysfunction of multiple spinal nerve roots within the cauda equina. This can cause pain, loss of feeling, movement, or control of the bladder or bowels, sexual dysfunction, and other symptoms.
  • Spinal Arachnoiditis: Arachnoiditis is characterized by chronic inflammation of the arachnoid. This is the innermost layer of the membrane that envelops the spinal cord and contains spinal fluid. Traumatic injuries, surgical complications, prolonged nerve compression, and infections can all cause arachnoiditis. Symptoms can include chronic pain, numbness and tingling of the hands and feet, sexual dysfunction, loss of bladder control, muscle cramps, spasms, and more.

Applying for Disability With a Spinal Condition

When filing for disability benefits, a claimant must meet the SSA’s definition of disabled. Their strict evaluation process will assess the severity of the claimant’s condition and how it affects their ability to work. The SSA requires both medical and non-medical evidence to substantiate the claim.

Spinal Conditions in the Blue Book

To qualify for benefits, a disability must be considered a qualifying condition. The SSA’s Blue Book lists impairments that qualify for SSD.

Spinal disorders can fall under Section 1.00, Musculoskeletal Disorders or Section 11.00, Neurological Disorders, subcategory 11.08. These sections describe the qualifying medical criteria for various spine-related impairments.

To be eligible for benefits, a claimant’s condition must meet or equal a Blue Book listing in severity and meet the associated medical criteria. A condition must also limit one’s ability to perform SGA for at least 12 months.

Medical Evidence

Medical evidence is crucial in establishing the existence, severity, and expected duration of any spinal condition. Claimants must be able to demonstrate how their impairment limits their ability to perform work-related tasks. The SSA uses this evidence to decide whether a spinal condition meets their qualifying criteria.

Different imaging tests like CT scans, X-rays, and MRIs are commonly used to evaluate spinal conditions. The SSA expects to see the results of such tests, physician evaluations, treatment regimens, and other medical records.

Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) & Medical-Vocational Allowance

Claims can fail to meet criteria outlined in the Blue Book, but that doesn’t mean a claimant is always able to engage in SGA. In situations where a claimant is still unable to work, they can file for a medical-vocational allowance.

To qualify for a medical-vocational allowance, a claimant must undergo a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment. This allows the SSA to determine their level of functioning and ability to perform work-related tasks.

An RFC assessment will also determine whether the claimant can, or should be expected to, adjust to any new type of work.

If the RFC assessment proves the claimant’s disability leaves them unable to work, they will be approved for SSD. This is true even if they do not meet the Blue Book requirements of any impairment listing.

Do Any Spine Disorders Automatically Qualify for Disability Benefits?

A spinal condition diagnosis does not guarantee claim approval. The Social Security Administration must evaluate the provided medical evidence to determine if an illness or injury qualifies for benefits.

Contact Our Trusted Social Security Disability Lawyer

If you’re suffering from a spinal injury or condition that leaves you unable to work, you may qualify for SSD. Working with a disability lawyer in North Dakota who understands the Social Security Disability system can elevate your chances of obtaining benefits.

Contact Ficek Law, PC, to schedule a free consultation today. With our law firm’s experience and unwavering commitment, you can depend on us to fight for your rights.

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