The spine is a powerful bone that helps keep you upright and functional. But when a herniated disc crushes or pushes out your spine’s nerves, severe pain is the result. Herniated discs are actually pretty common. You can resolve most issues with pain medication and rest. But some worsen over time enough to limit your mobility permanently. In some cases, you need help completing daily tasks. Qualifying for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits is the only option left for some people. However, back pain’s a common issue, and proving your injury’s bad enough to qualify for SSD can be difficult. Learn how to present the best possible case when you apply for SSD below.
Common Herniated Disc Symptoms That Differ From Regular Back Pain
Back pain from a bulging or herniated disc is actually quite common among older Americans. And it doesn’t even take a catastrophic accident or failed surgery to affect you. In fact, it often happens when pressure builds and impinges on your spine’s nerve roots during the natural aging process. Jobs that involve either manual labor or standing on your feet all day can make a herniated disc hurt much worse. Some common symptoms that come with a bulging or herniated disc include:
- Severe pain that often radiates down one leg or your spine
- Hyperactive reflexes in your legs
- Muscle weakness
- Tingling in your legs
- Bowel and bladder changes
- Paralysis below the waist
Not sure how to tell whether you pulled a muscle or have a herniated disc? Here are some key differences:
- Muscle pain in your back usually occurs after you move the wrong way or over-exert yourself. Back pain from a herniated disc is sharp, sudden and happens even when you’re not moving at all. In other words, no obvious or unusual physical activity, motion or event triggered the pain you feel now.
- You generally feel pain from a pulled back muscle in one localized area. Pain from a herniated disc typically travels down one or both legs.
- Herniated disc symptoms typically go beyond back pain to include things such as numbness, tingling and muscle weakness. If your only symptom is back pain, wait a few days before seeing your doctor. Doctors often use a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) to diagnose suspected spinal injuries.
How to Prove Your Herniated Disc Should Qualify for Disability Benefits
There is no doubt that a herniated disc can cause severe, debilitating pain. But to qualify for SSD, you must prove your herniated disc pain’s bad enough to force you to stop working. you must meet the Social Security Administration’s evidence requirements. While the SSA’s website clearly lists these requirements, knowing how to interpret them is a different story. To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must prove your herniated disc causes both these problems:
- Major loss of function. This mostly pertains to your inability to walk or stand for long periods of time. However, your herniated disc must also limit or prevent you from performing fine and/or gross movements. In plain English, you need to prove that you cannot bend over and pick up a pencil after dropping it.
- Severe pain or other symptoms that limit your ability to work. Usually, these factors contribute to functional loss of motion. If pain or other symptoms affect your ability to perform basic work activities, then you may qualify for SSD. For example: You may be eligible if you must alternate sitting and standing throughout the day.
Medical Evidence That Best Supports Your Claim
Medical imaging documents play a key role in proving your eligibility. The SSA requires medically acceptable imaging scans, which can include:
- CAT scans
- Radionuclear bone-imaging scans
Along with a thorough examination, diagnosis and measurements or treatment notes from your doctor, these images build a stronger case. Time is another factor in getting approved for SSD. According to SSA guidelines, your herniated disc must force you to stop working for at least 12 months. Since many bulging discs resolve on their own within six months to a year, you may not actually qualify. Then again, if your doctor says you need surgery with a lengthy recovery time, that may actually help you. However, the SSA also looks at vocational-medical guidelines that may tip the odds in your favor:
- Current age (if you’re age 50 or older when you apply, you’re much more likely to qualify)
- Educational background (it’s easier to qualify with a high school diploma than a college degree)
- Prior work history (you’re more likely to qualify if your previous job tasks were anything but sedentary)
These vocational factors can help you meet the SSA’s definition of “disabled” and get approved.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
If you can’t work with a herniated disc, consider working with a Social Security lawyer. All disability attorneys work on contingency, which means you’ll pay nothing for professional help now. Nearly 2 in 5 first-time applicants get denied benefits for basic mistakes filling out the forms. An attorney can submit the right medical evidence and an error-free application the first time. It’s the best way to get paid the most SSD benefits you’re owed faster than you would filing on your own!
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free disability benefits evaluation now.
Mandy Voisin is a freelance writer, blogger, and author of Girls of the Ocean and Star of Deliverance. As an accomplished content marketing consultant, mom of four and doctor's wife, Mandy has written hundreds of articles about dangerous drugs and medical devices, medical issues that impact disabled Americans, veterans' healthcare and workers' compensation issues since 2016.