If you’ve been struggling with severe back problems or back pain due to an injury or disorder for a long time, you may also have financial concerns due to an increasing inability to do your job, and/or the cost of extensive medical treatments. If this is the case, you may be wondering whether your chronic back pain or back problems are considered disabilities and whether they will qualify you for financial support from the government.
If your disability or back pain is deemed severe enough by The United States Social Security Administration (SSA), you may be eligible to benefit from one of their disability or income funds. Depending on the prognosis of your condition, i.e. how long you are likely to suffer from the disability, and how close you are to retirement, these funds will pay you a monthly sum for the period it will take you to get back to work.
Because not all back problems and pains are considered disabilities by SSA, however, we will look at what qualifies back pain or back injury as a back disability. Once established that your back pain problems do qualify as a disability, there are basic requirements to be met before you can qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD). Apart from having proof of suffering from one of the conditions on their spinal disabilities list, your Residual Functioning Capacity (RFC) assessment will form part of these requirements.
When Does Chronic Back Pain Qualify for Disability?
According to SSD your chronic back pain, which should be supported by a medical examination such as X-rays, CT scans, or at the very least a veritable doctor’s report, only qualifies for disability if it
- has been or will be ongoing for more than 12 months
- stops you from doing the work you used to do, or any other work
- stops you from engaging in any substantial gainful activity (SGA)
In addition, they have a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) credit system whereby you need to have worked in one of the jobs covered by Social Security for at least the last ten years. More detailed information on this credit system is available on their website. https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/disability/qualify.html
That covers the working definition of a chronic back disability to qualify for Social Security Disability, but there are further requirements that need to be met.
Basic Requirements for Disability Benefits
The SSA lists five steps or requirements they use in determining whether your back disability qualifies for state benefits.
1. Are you working?
This relates to the amount you earn per annum. Certain people’s income-generating capacity may have decreased due to their back disability, but not to the point where they are unable to provide for themselves and their families.
2. Is your condition severe?
Meaning if you struggle with your back disability from time to time, but it does not leave you in such pain that you cannot perform the basic mental or physical requirements of your job, you are not likely to qualify for Disability.
3. Is your condition found on the list of disabling conditions?
This is a defined list of proven medical conditions that, when severe, are likely to render you unable to perform your work. If your back injury or disability is not listed as a qualifying spinal disorder but is deemed severe enough, you may still qualify for disability relief.
4. Can you do the work you previously did?
If you are unable to perform your current job but do have the Residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a previous job you possess the skills for, you will not qualify for disability.
5. Can you do any other type of work?
Lastly, it could be the case with certain individuals who are unable to perform the work they previously did, due to the debilitating back condition, but possess another skill-set that will enable them to generate an adequate income. If this is the case, you are not likely to qualify for SSD.
What Back Conditions Qualify for Disability?
As mentioned, these conditions will need to be diagnosed by a medical professional, but if you suspect that you may be suffering from any of these spine disorders that would qualify you for Disability, it may be worth getting it assessed. Most of these back conditions involve severe pain in the back, so we will briefly list some of the other symptoms associated with them:
- muscle cramps
- affected bladder functions
- affected sexual functions
- affected bowel functions
You can find more information on Spinal Arachnoiditis from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders)
Spinal and Nerve Root Compression
Apart from pain, Spinal Root Compression and Nerve Root Compression can cause gradual or sudden numbness or weakness in
Find more information on spinal cord compression from Hopkins Medicine (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/spinal-cord-compression)
As well as pain in your back and neck, this back condition can also cause numbness and weakness in your arms and legs. More information is available from Cleveland Clinic
Degenerative Disc Disorder
The pain associated with this condition may come and go and is worsened by sitting. It is normally concentrated around the
- Lower back, extending to the
- Neck extending to the
- Weakness and numbness in arms and legs
More detailed information is available from Cleveland Clinic (https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16912-degenerative-disk-disease )
Here is a list of the symptoms associated with Ankylosing Spondylitis, according to Hopkins Medicine (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/ankylosing-spondylitis)
- Back pain, usually most severe at night during rest
- Early morning stiffness
- Stooped posture in response to back pain (bending forward tends to relieve the pain)
- Straight and stiff spine
- Inability to take a deep breath, if the joints between the ribs and spine are affected
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
- Joint pain
- Mild eye inflammation
- Organ damage, such as to the heart, lungs, and eyes
- Skin rashes
- Gastrointestinal illness (such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis)
Using Your RFC for Back Pain to Qualify for Disability
Your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) will be assessed by SSA when deciding whether your back pain qualifies for disability. They will look at how much of your work, or any other work you possess the skill set for, you can still perform. Your RFC will be classified into
- Light Work
- Medium Work
- Heavy Work
- Very Heavy Work
In addition to the workload you can perform, they will also look at the length of time you can keep up your performance and what your job requirements are.
Finally, there is a second qualifier, which we will just briefly mention here. If you are the widow or widower of someone with a back injury or disability; a child under the age of 18 or an adult whose condition started before the age of 22, you may qualify for SSD.