You probably would not be surprised to discover that the most common impairment cited by Social Security disability applicants involves back pain. Here's how experienced disability attorneys select winning back pain cases.
How old are you? If you are under the age of 50 you will have a much more difficult time winning a back pain case because Social Security judges are generally reluctant to approve claims by anyone under 50. If you are under age 50, your medical record must describe a very, very serious orthopedic or neurological issues. If you are age 50 or older, we may be able to argue for disability under the "grid rules" which allow for a finding of "disabled" even if you retain some capacity for work. Visit my website https://www.gridrules.net to learn more about how the grid rules work.
Your Work History
Do you have an extensive work history? - generally speaking, judges are much more receptive to disability applicants who have worked consistently for 15, 20, 25 or more years. You are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt if you have a long, consistent work history. Presumably they recognize that you would not give up a career and a comfortable salary to sit at home for 3 years hoping that Social Security will come through with disability benefits
Diagnostic Test Results in Your Medical Record
Does your medical record contain one or more MRI or CT scan reports showing a significant orthopedic or neurological issue? Disability judges prefer objective evidence of a back problem - issues such as a disc herniation, spinal nerve root impingement, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the canal housing the spinal cord), or other abnormalities that can be imaged. Without diagnostic imaging, you will be asking your judge to assume that you have a serious medical issue and in 2018 and beyond, judges will not make this assumption.
Has Surgery Been Recommended?
Have one or more of your doctors recommended surgery, and if so, is the recommended surgery extensive and invasive? Social Security will not "punish" you for choosing not to undergo surgery, but statements from your treating specialists like orthopedists or neurosurgeons that surgery is recommended can demonstrate to the judge that your problem is serious enough to impact your work capacity.
Have You Been Diagnosed with a "Failed Back?"
Have you undergone surgery that was not successful in restoring function? Sometimes we will see the term "failed back" or "failed back syndrome." If these terms are in your record the judge will expect to see that you have been referred to long term pain management. This type of medical record signals to the judge that you have a medical problem that would likely prevent all competitive work and thus qualify you under SSA's definition of disability.
Do You Have Trouble with Activities of Daily Living?
Does your medical record and your testimony demonstrate that you have significant daily symptoms that interfere with your activities of daily living and thus, would preclude competitive work? Do you experience significant neurological symptoms such as muscle atrophy, foot drop, numbness and tingling, or pain radiating into your legs? Symptoms like these, especially if you have experienced them over many months or years, suggests that your impairments are both serious and permanent.
Will Your Doctors Cooperate with Your Efforts to Win Disability Benefits?
Will one or more of your treating doctors support you by completing a functional capacity evaluation or writing a narrative report. FCEs and narrative reports should not offer conclusions (i.e., Mr. X is disabled) but should identify specific activity limitations that may interfere with your performance of a job.
Are You Getting Regular Medical Treatment?
Are you seeing an orthopedist, neurologist, neurosurgeon or pain management doctor on a regular basis? Yes, medical care is expensive and you may not have good insurance or any insurance. But if you appear at a disability hearing when the last record of treatment was 18 months ago, your judge may conclude that your problem must not be that severe. If you are seeking chiropractic care or other holistic or natural treatment, those records won't help you much. Social Security judges give very little weight to so-called "alternative" medical treatment.
Are You Suffering from Medication Side Effects?
Do you experience significant medication side effects like fatigue, mental confusion or agitation? Do you take medications for your back issues or any other medical problems that result in a need to urinate frequently (every 60 to 90 minutes). Do you experience bouts of diarrhea or constipation that would interfere with the work schedule of an entry-level job? Can you present a diary or calendar documenting these medication side effects. Don't assume the judge will know what you are experiencing unless you can present evidence.
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