Chronic Back Pain and Social Security Disability

By Disability Group

Pain is a very controversial topic in the world of Social Security Disability.  Pain can only be understood by the person experiencing it and is therefore difficult to assess.  When asked, on a scale of 1 to 10 what level of pain someone is feeling, different people will certainly give different responses. A great number of Americans experience severe back pain and for some, this pain can be disabling.

Social Security has very specific guidelines regarding what disorders of the spine constitute a disability.  In order for a person to be considered disabled because of a spinal disorder, they must suffer from a condition which compromises the nerve root or the spinal cord.  Before Social Security begins to evaluate your pain, they must determine whether you have a medically determinable impairment (e.g. herniated disk, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disk disease, vertebral facture).  In order for a doctor to diagnose a patient with one of these impairments, the patient will generally need an MRI or some other test.

Once it has been established that you have a legitimate disorder of the spine, your pain is evaluated in terms of how intense it is, how long it lasts and how it affects your ability to do certain activities.  If your back pain prevents you from bending over or lifting heavy objects, then it would certainly prevent you from doing physically demanding labor.  If your pain prevents you from sitting in one place for a given amount of time, then it could also prevent you from doing sedentary work.

Another aspect of your pain that Social Security may consider is the way that your medication affects you. Many pain medications cause drowsiness, which could prevent your ability to focus and perform more complicated tasks.

If you currently have a claim for disability based on your back pain, then there are a few things you may be able to do to improve your chances of getting approved. First, make sure that some type of objective testing is done.  Whether it’s an x-ray, MRI or a CAT scan, your claim will not be awarded on your doctor’s opinion alone. If possible, see a doctor who is an expert in disorders of the spine, such as an orthopedist.  Finally, make sure to see your doctors often. If you go for long periods of time without visiting your doctor, the examiner or judge making a decision on your case may assume that your condition has improved, even if it has not.