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Back Injuries

Getting Social Security Benefits for Your Back Injuries

Types
Back injuries that will qualify a claimant for disability benefits include spinal disorders like stenosis, disc bulges, joint space narrowing, certain types of arthritis, herniated discs, degenerative disc disease and more. Most of the time, there must be a significant effect on the ability to move around. Sometimes medical imaging, x-rays, and positive back or leg tests are required to prove the case. The fact is that many people have back injuries that cause frequent irritation, but if your injury renders you unable to work, you should get the assistance you need. The following information was obtained from the Institute for Spinal Disorders at http://www.csmc.edu/533.html.

Disc Disease

  • The discs are like shock absorbers between the bones of the spine and are designed to help the back stay flexible while resisting terrific forces in many different planes of motion. Each disc has two parts:
    • A firm, tough outer layer (annulus fibrosis). The outer portion of this layer contains nerves. If the disc tears in this area, it can become quite painful.
    • A soft, jelly-like core (nucleus pulposus). This part of the disc contains proteins that can cause the tissues they touch to become swollen and tender. If these proteins leak out to the nerves of the outer layer of disc they can cause a great deal of pain.

Unlike other tissues of the body, there is very little blood supply to the disc. Once a disc is injured, it cannot repair itself, and a spiral of degeneration can set in with three stages that appear to occur over 20 to 30 years:

  • Acute pain makes normal movement of the back difficult
  • The bone where the injury occurred becomes relatively unstable. Over a long period of time, the patient will have back pain that comes and goes.
  • The body restabilizes the injured segment of the back. The patient experiences fewer bouts of back pain.

Symptoms
The typical person with degenerative disc disease is active, otherwise healthy and in his or her 30s or 40s. Common symptoms of this condition include:

  • Pain that is worse when sitting. While seated, the discs of the lower back have three times more load on them than when standing.
  • Pain that gets worse when bending, lifting or twisting
  • Feeling better while walking or even running than while sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Feeling better changing positions often or lying down
  • Periods of severe pain that come and go. These last from a few days to a few months before getting better. They can range from nagging pain to severe, disabling pain.
  • Pain can affects the low back, buttocks and thighs or the neck, depending on where the affected disc is
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Weakness in the leg muscles or foot drop may be a sign that there is damage to the nerve root

Causes and Risk Factors
Several factors can cause discs to degenerate, including age. Specific factors include:

  • The drying out of the disc. When we are born, the disc is about 80% water. As we age, the disc dries out and doesn't absorb shocks as well
  • Daily activities and sports cause tears in the outer core of the disc. By the age of 60, most people have some degree of disc degeneration. Not everyone at that age has back pain, however.
  • Injuries, which can cause swelling, soreness and instability. This can result in low back pain.
  • Some people appear to have more nerve endings deeper in the outer area of the disc. This may make them more sensitive to back pain.

Diagnosis
A diagnosis is based on a medical history and a physical examination, as well as the symptoms and the circumstances where the pain started. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan) can show damage to discs, but it alone cannot confirm degenerative disc disease.

Social Security Benefits
Back problems cause intense pain that can lead to chronic fatigue, emotional and mental problems, as well as paralysis. These symptoms can prevent you from working. Medications for pain have serious side effects that can cause difficulty in staying awake or in concentration. Surgeries are expensive, and do not always guarantee that the pain will go away. There are also huge risks involved with back surgery. Make sure you have all the information before making any decisions about medication or surgery. For information about back injuries such as herniated discs, lower back pain or stenosis, see the Institute for Spinal Disorders website at www.csmc.edu/533.html.

Social Security Process
Social Security evaluates each person's claim for benefits using the following five steps:

  1. Are you working? If you are working in 2012 and your earnings average more than $1,010 a month, you generally cannot be considered disabled. If your back injury prevents you from working, go to Step 2.
  2. Is your condition "severe?" If your back injury interferes with basic work-related activities, your claim will be considered. If it does not, we will find that you are not disabled. If your condition does interfere with basic work-related activities, go to Step 3.
  3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? For each of the major body systems, we maintain a list of medical conditions that are so severe they automatically mean that you are disabled. Some back conditions that appear on this list are stenosis, degenerative disc disease, lumbar back pain with positive straight leg raising tests, and nerve root compression. If your back condition is not on the list, we have to decide if it is of equal severity to a medical condition that is on the list. If it is, we will find that you are disabled. If it is not, then go to Step 4.
  4. Can you do the work you did previously? If your condition is severe but not at the same or equal level of severity as a medical condition on the list, then we must determine if the back pain interferes with your ability to do the work you did previously. If it does not, your claim will be denied. If it does, proceed to Step 5.
  5. Can you do any other type of work? If you cannot do the work you did in the past, we see if you are able to adjust to other work. We consider your medical conditions and your age, education, past work experience and any transferable skills you may have. If you cannot adjust to other work, your claim will be considered.

A professional will help you at all levels of the administrative process to:

  • Assist you with your initial SSI & SSDI application, with filing your request with the Social Security Administration for reconsideration, requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge or filing an appeal with the Appeals Council
  • Analyze your case under federal Social Security Disability regulations. Obtain a copy of your file from the Office of Hearings & Appeals to ensure that it reflects all your past medical treatment and that all records and documents contained therein are admissible as evidence
  • Ask that any prior SSI & SSDI applications for benefits be reopened
  • Protect your right to a fair hearing
  • Make any necessary Social Security appeals

We are not retained until the contract is countersigned.
Please contact our SSDI lawyers today to schedule your free initial consultation. Jacoby & Meyers has offices nationwide.