Can You Get Social Security Disability for Chronic Pain?

Important: We updated this article in May 2022 with the most current statistics and policy data available. If you suffer from chronic pain, you may occasionally feel a sense of hopelessness — but don’t despair. First of all, you’re definitely not alone, and it is possible to get monthly Social Security disability for chronic pain. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control conducted a 2019 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) asking Americans to describe their pain issues. The survey found an estimated 50.2 million adults (20.5%) experienced daily pain most days. Worse, 10% of U.S. adults (24.4 million people) had chronic pain so severe it limited their ability to work.

Chronic Pain Affects More Americans Than Most People Realize

Unfortunately, many different injuries, illnesses and diseases can cause chronic, debilitating pain. Chronic pain may arise from a singular cause, such as a surgical procedure or radiation treatment for cancer. But there are also several disabling conditions where chronic pain is the primary symptom, like fibromyalgia or a herniated disc.

The truth is, chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined.

Fortunately, there is help available for Americans who suffer from this very common problem. The three conditions that most frequently qualify for Social Security disability for chronic pain include:

In addition, applicants with shingles may also wish to file a disability for chronic pain benefits claim. Read on for information on how to qualify and see if you may be eligible for disability for chronic pain.

Social Security Disability for Fibromyalgia Pain

The SSA published SSR 12-2p, “Evaluation of Fibromyalgia,” for individuals filing a claim disability for chronic pain from the disease. This policy explains how to develop medical evidence establishing you have a medically determinable impairment (MDI) of fibromyalgia (FM).

Generally, you can establish an MDI of FM with strong evidence from a licensed physician (a medical or osteopathic doctor). This evidence must prove that your physician reviewed your medical history and then conducted a physical exam. The agency then reviews your physician’s treatment notes to see if they’re consistent with a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Then, the SSA claims examiner determines whether your symptoms have improved, worsened, or stayed the same over time with treatment.

According to the SSA, you must have a history of widespread pain in order receive monthly disability benefits. You must have widespread pain for at least three months in all body quadrants. You must also have axial skeletal pain in one of the following areas:

  • Cervical spine
  • Anterior chest
  • Thoracic spine
  • Lower back

Your pain may fluctuate in intensity, and it may not always be present. Whenever you file a disability benefits claim, the SSA needs objective medical evidence to establish an MDI’s presence before approval.

Social Security Disability for Arthritis (Including Rheumatoid Arthritis) Pain

The SSA defines arthritis as persistent inflammation or deformity affecting one or more major peripheral weight-bearing joints. This inflammation or deformity must then make it extremely difficult or impossible for you to walk on your own. You can also file an arthritis claim for joint inflammation or deformity in both arms, provided you cannot effectively perform fine and gross motor skills. In plain English, this means you cannot handwrite an essay or carry a heavy dictionary across the room without help.

Much like fibromyalgia, to prove your arthritis qualifies you for disability for chronic pain, the SSA needs copies of your:

  • Medical history
  • Physical examination report(s)
  • Laboratory findings report(s)
  • In some instances, appropriate medically acceptable imaging or tissue biopsy reports

Social Security Disability for Back Pain

Regardless of what caused your back injury, you must prove that chronic pain keeps you from doing things like:

  • Walking a few feet or climbing stairs without help
  • Bending over or stooping to picking up a pencil
  • Carrying anything that weighs more than a few pounds across the room

Back pain is something that affects a huge number of people. What the SSA needs to determine is whether your pain’s severe enough to keep you from working for 12 months. The agency looks for any applicants that might be exaggerating their symptoms in order to get disability for chronic pain. With that in mind, here are some back injury-related conditions that may qualify for monthly SSDI:

Social Security Disability for Shingles

While shingles can be extremely painful and debilitating, the SSA doesn’t list it in the Blue Book of eligible disabilities. To get disability for chronic pain from shingles, you must also have one of the following qualifying secondary medical conditions:

If you’re unable to work for one year due to chronic pain, you should definitely apply for SSDI benefits. Having a disability advocate help you file your claim can get your claim reviewed faster than the usual 3-5 months. We can connect you with an experienced Social Security attorney or advocate for a free consultation before filing your claim. Having a lawyer file your paperwork triples your benefit approval chances compared to applying for benefits without help.

Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now!

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Laura Schaefer is the author ofThe Teashop Girls,The Secret Ingredient, andLittler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at and