Degenerative Disc Disease and Qualifying for SSD Benefits

Degenerative Disc Disease and Qualifying for SSD Benefits

If you suffer from degenerative disc disease, then you likely have severe, ongoing back pain. This can certainly make you unable to do most jobs, even those that require no physical labor. Due to this reality, degenerative disc disease that lasts for at least a year may make you eligible for Social Security disability payments.

To learn if you qualify and should apply today, please read on.

When Do I Qualify for Disability Benefits with Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative disc disease is listed in the SSA’s blue book (the document used to determine SSD eligibility for health problems). It says you must show proof that your pain will last at least 12 months in a row.

So, you’ll need to show medical documents that prove at least one of the following applies to you:

1. Medical Need for a Mobility Device That You Need Both Hands to Operate

Devices that can count towards this requirement include:

  • Walker.
  • Canes.
  • Crutches.
  • Wheeled and seated mobility device that requires both hands to use (i.e., motor-driven scooter, wheelchair).

2. Inability to Use One Arm at Work Because You Need It to Move Yourself Around

This rule says you can never use more than one arm at work to start, maintain, or complete job-related activities. More specifically, it’s because you need that arm either to operate a one-handed device that helps you get around. Or, you need both arms to operate a mobility aid that helps you move around (i.e., a scooter or wheelchair).

3. You Cannot Use Both Arms to Complete Your Required Job Activities

This means you cannot use either arm to complete your required job tasks during a typical 8-hour work shift.

How Do I Know If I Have Degenerative Disc Disease?

An acceptable medical professional must provide your diagnosis and the imaging scans the SSA requires to apply for disability. But it can be helpful to educate yourself about your condition’s signs and symptoms ahead of your first appointment. Degenerative disc disease leads to back or neck pain. It is caused by wear-and-tear on your spinal disc(s). That’s also why it’s much more common in older adults than in young people. In addition, degenerative disc disease may cause cause weakness, numbness, and shooting pains in your arms or legs. This disease typically feels like low-level ongoing pain interrupted by more severe episodes.

Spinal Stenosis and Osteoarthritis

Degenerative disc disease is closely related to spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis, which we recently covered in other guides. We recommend you those articles, as they may be helpful to you now. Why? Because the requirements to apply for SSD benefits are similar for all three conditions. Disc degeneration can lead to spinal stenosis, which is a form of spinal degeneration that eventually pinches your spinal cord. It can also lead to osteoarthritis.

Spinal stenosis is a common condition for those aged 50 and older; its main symptom is lower back pain. According to the SSA, this condition, which you may have alongside your diagnosed degenerative disc disease, qualifies you for disability benefits if you are currently suffering from:

  • Chronic pain.
  • Tingling, cramping, burning or numbness in your lower back, buttocks and thighs.
  • Pain that comes and goes.
  • Weakness between your hips and your toes.

You’ll also need to show that you cannot walk without using one of these:

  • Walker.
  • Cane.
  • Two crutches.
  • Another person who knows how to help you get around.

Finally, you will need to present the following scans from the past 12 months that confirm you have spinal stenosis:

  • X-rays.
  • MRI or CT scans.

Osteoarthritis has similar symptoms, but can appear anywhere in your body (not just the back). As with degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis, you may realize it’s time to apply for benefits if you:

  • Cannot walk without assistance.
  • Have pain and discomfort when walking.
  • Struggle to hold onto objects (such as a pen).
  • Cannot easily move your arms or turn your head.

What if I Have a Herniated Disc, not Degenerative Disc Disease?

A herniated disc in your spine can cause severe pain. However, that pain usually resolves in six months or less with rest and over-the-counter pain killers. To qualify for SSD, you will need to prove your pain is bad enough that you cannot work for at least one year. In addition, you’ll need to meet the Social Security Administration’s evidence requirements. The SSA requires medically acceptable imaging scans, such as:

  • X-rays.
  • CAT scans.
  • MRIs.
  • Radionuclear bone-imaging scans.

You May Qualify for Legal Assistance

If you can’t work due to back pain caused by degenerative disc disease, consider working with a Social Security lawyer. All disability attorneys work on contingency, which means you’ll pay nothing for professional help now.

An attorney can submit the correct medical evidence and an error-free application the first time you apply for benefits. It’s the best way to get paid the most SSD benefits you’re owed faster. Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free disability benefits evaluation now:

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Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls, The Secret Ingredient, and Littler 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