Important: We updated this article in May 2023 to make sure all info below is both current and correct. If your doctor mentions spondylosis when discussing your problems with chronic back pain, you might feel worried. However, spondylosis is just a medical term that describes the pain and other related symptoms that come from spinal arthritis. In fact, it affects about 4 in every 5 people aged 60 and older, mostly for age-related reasons. But can you qualify for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits if you have this common back issue? Below, we’ll explain what may help you get approved for SSD benefits with spondylosis.
Step 1: Make Sure You Pass All Technical Requirements for Disability Benefits
Many people only think about their medical issues when applying for Social Security disability. We get emails all the time asking if certain health problems qualify for benefits. You should know that it’s impossible to get disability benefits if you aren’t technically eligible. That means even with terminal cancer, some people get denied SSD benefits for technical reasons. Before you apply for benefits, answer these questions:
- Did you work at least 5 in the last 10 years full time for jobs where you paid Social Security/FICA taxes? If yes, move on to question #2. If no, stop here – you cannot qualify for SSD benefits.
- Do you currently receive any Social Security benefits on your own work record, including early retirement? If yes, stop here – you cannot qualify for SSD benefits. If no, move on to question #3.
- Are you currently working and earning more than $1,500/month? If yes, stop here – you cannot qualify for Social Security disability. If no, then congratulations! You likely meet all technical requirements to qualify for benefits.
Step 2: Write Down All Your Related Health Problems & Spondylosis Symptoms
Remember, spondylosis is an umbrella term doctors use to describe your back pain and related symptoms. The Social Security Administration’s Blue Book does not specifically mention spondylosis, because it’s a symptom and not a condition by itself. It’s closer to saying you have nausea, for example, because many different things may cause it. First, you need to find out the source(s) and gather all related medical records from your doctor. These health issues can cause you to develop painful spondylosis symptoms as you age:
- Facet joint arthritis, so your pain’s usually worse after sitting or lying down for longer periods or when you’re most physically active.
- Degenerative disc disease, which means you’re more likely to have lower back, neck, arm, or leg pain from spinal degeneration.
- Spinal stenosis, which means your leg(s) experience burning nerve pain when you walk.
- Spinal arachnoiditis, which the SSA says counts only if your doctor says you must change your posture, lie down, stand, or sit every two hours to relieve severe burning, pain, or itching.
- Obesity (even carrying 10 extra pounds can increase your risk for developing spine problems if you’re sedentary or rarely exercise).
- Osteoporosis, which can cause the bones in your spine to collapse and then rub together.
- Cervical radiculopathy, which pinches your spinal nerves and causes shooting pain, numbness, and even hypersensitivity.
- Osteoarthritis, which may start after age 45 or come from surgery or a traumatic injury (i.e., a broken ankle).
- Cervical spondylotic myelopathy, which means your limbs go numb, you may have trouble walking or standing, maintaining balance, or controlling your bladder.
About 62% of approved SSD applicants in recent years listed 2-5 conditions on their claim forms.
Step 3: Pull Together Key Medical Documents That Support Your Spondylosis Disability Claim
Next, you’ll want to visit your pharmacy. Ask the pharmacist to print out a list of every prescription you filled in the last year. (Any drug store should provide this to you free of charge.) The SSA wants to see your medication dosages, how often you take each one, cost, and side effects. If you stopped taking a specific medication or changed drugs in the past year, explain why. Maybe your doctor put you on a time-release pain medication to control your spondylosis symptoms, for example. Other medical evidence that best supports your SSD claim may include:
- Spinal scans taken within the past 12 months (i.e., x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, etc.).
- Lab tests, including recent blood work.
- Hospitalization or surgery dates, along with detailed receipts from those procedures.
- Physical therapy dates within the past year, if applicable.
- Records/receipts showing how often you require steroid shots, massage therapy, acupuncture, or chiropractor visits to manage your symptoms.
- Detailed treatment notes from your doctor showing how often you receive treatment for your spondylosis symptoms and how well you respond.
You should also keep a symptom diary for at least 30 days tracking how spondylosis affects your daily life. Basically, the SSA wants to know how much your health limits your ability to work. If you can show you struggle with basic daily living tasks, that may help prove your case.
For example: Can you do laundry, clean your home or pick up groceries by yourself? If you drop a pencil on the floor, can you pick it back up again? Can you stand up and walk across the room without help? If not, then you likely do qualify for SSD benefits.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Having a lawyer file your SSD claim makes the SSA nearly 3x more likely to award you SSD benefits. People who apply with legal assistance through our website usually get at least $13,800 in back pay as well as monthly benefits. Those who apply on their own without legal assistance often wait up to two years for their first SSD payment.
Think you can’t afford a lawyer? Every Social Security attorney in our network offers free phone calls to answer all your claim questions. We can match you with an experienced, local lawyer who’ll call you right away. This free phone call can make all the difference in helping you get benefits the first time you apply. If the SSA doesn’t approve your claim, then you pay $0 for legal assistance. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay one small fee.
Ready to see if you may qualify for free expert claim help by phone? Click the button below to start your free online benefits quiz now:
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 Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, 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.