Back Injuries and Social Security Disability Benefits

SS benefit paper

The Social Security Administration (SSA) frequently deals with Social Security disability claims involving back injuries and disorders of the spine. If your back disorder has lasted for at least one year, and your symptoms of pain are severe enough to affect your ability to work, then you should consider applying for disability benefits. Based upon your income level and your work history, you can apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and Social Security Disability benefits.

Here is helpful information on back injury Social Security disability benefits, from the Philadelphia office of Leventhal Sutton & Gornsein:

Medical Evidence for Back Disability
You will need to provide a detailed medical history regarding the doctor offices you have visited during the relevant time period. The SSA will review your medical records and confirm whether a licensed doctor has diagnosed you with a back injury. Common back disorders include degenerative disc disease, a herniated disc, chronic low back pain, radiculopathy, and sciatica. Key medical documents for your social security disability claim will be an MRI or x-ray of your spine, and any physical examinations of your back. The SSA will be looking for abnormal findings such as a positive straight-leg raise test, loss of muscle tone, loss of sensation, and difficulty walking.

Your medical records also will be analyzed to determine whether you are taking any medications for your back injury, how helpful these medications are for your level of pain, whether these medications have any side effects, and whether there are any doctor opinions regarding your ability to work a full-time job. Medical opinions should discuss how your back injury affects your ability to perform daily activities. This includes your ability to sit and stand for long periods of time, your ability to reach overhead, your ability to concentrate on tasks, whether you need to lie down during the day and for how long, and how much weight you are able to carry and lift during an 8-hour workday. The Social Security Administration is required to consider the opinions of nurse practitioners and chiropractors in addition to doctor opinions, but according to regulations a treating doctor will be given the most weight if it is generally consistent with the medical record as a whole.

If you do not have many medical records, the SSA might send you on a one-time consultative physical examination with a doctor. This examination will be at the SSA’s expense, and therefore, you will not be able to choose the doctor. A lawyer can review your medical records to determine whether to make a request for a consultative examination.

Getting Disability Benefits for a Back Injury
Overall, there are two ways in which you can qualify for social security disability benefits for a back injury or back disorder.

First, you can meet all of the specific medical requirements for back disorders at Listing 1.04 located in the SSA’s Listing of Impairments. The biggest hurdle is having objective medical evidence showing compression of a nerve root. You also must show muscle weakness, sensory problems, and significant difficulty in walking. It can be possible to argue that you meet or equal a listing if you have a doctor’s opinion stating that the signs and symptoms of your back condition are equivalent to the listing.

Second, the SSA can decide that due to your medical impairments, you are unable to perform your past work and any other work in the economy. Generally, the older you are, and the more physically demanding the level of your past work, then it is easier to “grid out” and be found disabled using the Social Security Administration’s Medical-Vocational Guidelines.

Your attorney might be able to send a letter to the SSA arguing for disability benefits and requesting that it make a decision “on the record.” If that request is denied, then it is likely you will need to appear and give testimony before an administrative law judge (ALJ) at a hearing.

Tips for the Social Security Disability Process
1. Explain your current level of functioning to your doctor so that these comments are made part of your medical records. If you continue to have back pain, say that during visits to your doctor. If possible, also state what causes the back pain: is it lifting over a certain amount of weight, bending over, or standing or sitting for a long period of time?

2. If you have been denied on your initial application, you should always try to file for a reconsideration of the SSA’s determination. And if the reconsideration is denied, then you should apply for the chance for a hearing before an administrative law judge. It can be a long wait to get a hearing. During this time you should continue to attend any doctor visits and be compliant with your therapy and medications. Because a back injury is fact-specific, it is advisable to consult with an attorney if you have been denied on your initial application for disability benefits.

If you think you might qualify for back injury Social Security disability benefits, the Philadelphia office of Leventhal Sutton & Gornsein can evaluate and pursue your claim. 800-889-6101

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