Disc degeneration is a normal part of aging. That’s why as we grow old, our back pains also seem to worsen. In fact, some people show degenerative disc disease symptoms as early as 35 years old.
But is degenerative disc disease a disability?
Well, not necessarily. The SSA doesn’t consider degenerative disc disease itself as a disability. But if your symptoms are so severe that it prevents you from making a living or if it leads to other disorders that meet the SSA’s listing, then you might be able to claim disability benefits.
To increase your chances of getting disability for degenerative disc disease, you need to understand more about the disease and how the SSA evaluates disability claims.
Understanding Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease isn’t technically a disease. It happens when the cushioning in your spine wears away. This cushioning prevents the bones in your spinal column (vertebrae) from rubbing against each other. When it erodes, the bones can start to rub together, causing back pain that:
- comes and goes and lasts for weeks or months
- worsens as you bend or lift things
- travels down your buttocks and lower butt
When your vertebrae rub together, it can pinch the nerves in your spinal column too. This can cause numbness and tingling in your arms and legs. It can also weaken your leg muscles, affecting your mobility. It can also lead to other spine disorders, like:
- herniated disk
- spinal stenosis
Since the severity and stages of spinal disc degeneration vary per person, the symptoms can also vary widely. Some people may only experience mild back pain that lasts for a week. While others may become paralyzed by the pain, preventing them from working or even doing simple tasks.
Because of this, the SSA will only consider degenerative disc disease a disability if it meets certain requirements.
When is Degenerative Disc Disease a Disability?
According to the SSA, a medical condition can only be considered a disability if it:
- prevents you from engaging in a substantial gainful activity
- is expected to last for at least 12 months or result in death
Substantial gainful activity (SGA) refers to the level of work you can do, given your condition. In short, if your degenerative disc disease prevents you from doing a certain level of work for at least 12 months or is fatal, you might be able to claim benefits.
However, you need to remember that degenerative disc disease symptoms are sporadic. The pain typically lasts for a few weeks, then dies down and comes back again after a few months. This makes it difficult to prove that your symptoms will last for 12 months or more.
In addition, this type of condition isn’t generally considered fatal. This makes claiming disability all the more challenging.
Besides, most cases of degenerative disc disorder only affect your mobility. If you can still do sedentary work and earn above the SGA limit, your claim might be denied.
How to Increase Your Chances of Getting Benefits
While getting disability benefits for degenerative disc disease can be difficult, it’s not impossible. Here are some tips on how you can increase your chances of getting approved for benefits:
1. Gather Medical Evidence
Since the SSA’s decision will rely mostly on the severity of your symptoms, the first thing you need to secure is proper medical evidence.
A diagnosis is a good start. But you should include a formal statement from your doctor detailing your limitations. You can also document your pain and limitations yourself.
Degenerative disk disease also tends to get worse over time. So submitting your treatment history and records of sick days or past disability leave can give the SSA a better idea of your condition.
2. Prepare Other Supporting Evidence
Aside from medical evidence, you should also prepare other evidence to support your claim. This includes:
- education history
- work history
- witness statement
- formal statements from family members
3. Answer SSA’s Disability Questionnaire Thoroughly
As part of your disability claim, the SSA will require you to answer a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form. The information in this form will be used by the SSA to make a disability determination. So make sure to answer all questions thoroughly and to the best of your abilities.
You can also check out our guide on how to answer disability questionnaires if you’re not sure what answers to put.
4. Don’t Try to Downplay Your Symptoms
Downplaying your symptoms is one of the worst things you can do if you’re applying for disability benefits. Remember that the SSA will rely on your doctor’s records and reports to determine if you really are disabled.
If you tell your doctor that it doesn’t hurt that much or that you’re fine even if your back pain is killing you, that’s what they will put in their report. I mean, there’s no other person who can fully describe the level of pain you’re feeling other than you.
Now, imagine you’re the SSA officer reading that report. Will you consider yourself disabled? Or will you deny your claim?
5. Hire a Good Lawyer
The SSA doesn’t really require you to hire a disability lawyer. But having one can greatly increase your chances of getting benefits.
An experienced social security disability lawyer like Victor Malca can help you through the entire process. He can help you gather medical evidence and other supporting documents and represent you in court if necessary.
He has already helped thousands of injured workers in Florida get the benefits they rightfully deserve. He can help you get yours too. Call us now for a free consultation.
VICTOR MALCA – Florida Workers Compensation & Social Security Disability Attorney
Victor Malca P.A. has over 27 years of litigation experience in Workers Compensation and Social Security Disability lawsuits. His experience and continued success when fighting for his clients puts him among the most trusted workers’ compensation attorney’s in Florida. He specializes in representing injured workers on compensation benefit cases and disabled individuals claiming lost social security disability benefits.
Book a free consultation today. Our unwavering advocacy for employee rights and privileges are recognized by our past clients across South Florida.
About The Author
Judy Ponio is a writer and editor for the Victor Malca Law P.A. website and blog. She enjoys helping people in need with questions about social security disability and workers compensation law. She has a passion for helping those in need and the elderly with accurate legal information that can make a positive difference in their lives.