Does Spinal Stenosis Qualify for Disability Benefits?

Spinal stenosis is one of the most common sources of lower back and leg pain in people over 50. In fact, about half a million Americans suffer from its symptoms every year. It’s also the number-one reason why people need spinal surgery after age 65. Spinal stenosis is especially common among people who undergo failed back surgeries for chronic pain. But will the Social Security Administration (SSA) pay you disability benefits for spinal stenosis? Below, we’ll explain how to get Social Security disability (SSD) for this common health problem.

How the SSA Evaluates Disability Claims for Spinal Stenosis

The good news is that most people develop noticeable spinal stenosis symptoms when they’re 50-65 years old. After your 50th birthday, the SSA uses different rules that make it easier for you to qualify for SSD benefits. In addition, the SSA Blue Book has a specific spinal stenosis listing that shows how they evaluate your claim. To medically qualify for disability benefits, all the following must apply to you:

  • Chronic pain, tingling, cramping, burning or numbness in your lower back, buttocks and thighs
  • Pain that doesn’t come from one specific nerve area that comes and goes
  • Weakness that happens anywhere between your hips and your toes
  • Cannot walk without assistance (i.e., you need a walker, cane, two crutches or another person to help you get around)
  • X-rays, MRI or CT scans within the past year that can confirm your spinal stenosis diagnosis

Because spinal stenosis gets worse over time, you might not yet meet all these requirements. But if you’re aged 50-64, you should still apply for SSD benefits. We’ll explain why in the next section.

Tips for Qualifying If You Can’t Meet the Above Requirements

Just because you can still walk without help doesn’t mean you can keep working full-time. Most people don’t realize the main thing the SSA looks for is how your condition limits your ability to work. Your spinal stenosis may force you to stop working before normal retirement age because you can’t do certain things. The closer you are to your normal retirement age, the more likely you are to qualify for disability benefits. Basically, the SSA understands it’s harder to go back to school, move for work or change careers after age 50.

If one of more of the following describes you, then you’re much more likely to get approved:

  • Your doctor suggests you alternate sitting, standing and lying down to relieve your symptoms
  • You have difficulty bending over, squatting or crouching to pick up a pencil after dropping it on the floor
  • You have a high school diploma or GED, but not a college degree (or higher)
  • You’ve already tried physical therapy or surgery, but they didn’t fully relieve your symptoms
  • Other related health conditions also impact your ability to work (i.e., rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease/herniated discs, spinal tumors, obesity or scoliosis)
  • You take prescription drugs with side effects that make it difficult to complete your usual job tasks (i.e., pain medication)
  • It’s hard or impossible for you to reach, carry or lift certain things
  • Nobody’s currently hiring people in your area with your job skills, work history, and educational background

Bonus Tip: It’s rare for the SSA to approve benefits for just one health problem. Nearly 7 in 10 approved claims list 2-5 different medical conditions.

Other Rules to Know When Applying for Disability With Spinal Stenosis

Before filing your SSD application, here are a few more things to keep in mind:

  • You cannot qualify for Social Security disability if you haven’t worked in the past five years. That’s because your payroll taxes go towards paying your federal disability insurance premiums every month. Once you stop paying those for 60 months in a row, the government stops your coverage.
  • Your spinal stenosis symptoms must prevent you from working at least 12 months in a row. If you need spinal surgery but expect to start working again in less than a year, you won’t qualify.
  • If you’re already drawing any Social Security benefits, the government automatically denies your claim. That’s because SSD is essentially an early Social Security withdrawal program for people with serious health issues. If you’re 62 years old and drawing early retirement, for example, then you cannot qualify for SSD payments.

You’re 3x as likely to get benefits right away if a Social Security attorney files your claim. Since disability lawyers work on contingency, you’ll pay $0 for legal assistance if you’re not approved. And if you win, you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.

Most people who apply without legal assistance wait 18-24 months for their first payment. People who apply with legal assistance through our website typically receive $12,000 in lump-sum back pay and monthly SSD benefits. Have questions about applying for disability benefits? Sign up for a free, no-obligation phone call with a disability attorney near you. They’ll call within one business day so you can specific advice that applies to your situation without leaving your home!

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

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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity,, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.