Can You Get Social Security Disability for Having Sciatica?

Sciatica occurs when pain radiates down along the sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back through your hips and down each leg. Generally, sciatica only affects one side of the body and happens because a herniated disc or bone spur compresses the nerve. This can lead to pain, inflammation and/or numbness on the affected side.

There are a variety of risk factors that may increase a person’s chances of experiencing sciatica including:

In most cases of sciatica, the condition can be effectively treated with physical therapy, medication, steroid injections and/or surgery, and the symptoms can decrease or disappear within a matter of weeks. However, in some rare cases, sciatica can lead to serious and permanent damage that can cause a loss of feeling or movement in the affected leg as well as bowel and urinary incontinence. In these cases, it’s beneficial to know if you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. 

Can Someone With Sciatica Receive Social Security Disability Benefits?

Individuals with a disability lasting more than 12 months that renders them unable to work full-time may qualify for SSD benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict guidelines on what it considers a disability. For this reason, it’s rare that someone with sciatica to win SSD benefits, since it’s not a permanent disability.

In order to get SSD benefits, the SSA must determine you’re not capable of doing your old job because of your sciatica. Additionally, if you are unable to handle other gainful work based on your age, education, and skills because of your condition, you might be able to get your Social Security disability claim approved.

Because so much of the process relies on your working ability, the SSA will complete a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment to find out what level of exertion you can do, whether it’s sedentary, light, medium, or heavy. It also measures to what extent the sciatica affects how well you perform work-like activities, like standing, climbing, walking, sitting, and stooping down. Sedentary jobs require the least amount of standing and physical exertion, so if your doctor limited your walking or standing to two hours or less per day, then this is the only sort of job you can do. However, if nobody will give you a sedentary job, it limits your options. An inability to sit for long periods because of your pain is another factor. Another common symptom is numbness or weakness on the affected side, which can affect your ability to climb or balance.

Keep in mind that if the SSA finds just one type of job you can do with sciatica, even with your given restrictions, your Social Security disability application will be denied.

How the SSA Evaluates Your Chronic Pain Symptoms

Because sciatica causes severe pain, the SSA will take into account whether chronic pain affects your ability to work. Pain is subjective, however. So, it’s imperative your medical records provide documented evidence describing your pain. You also need consistent descriptions of pain levels as well as efforts to treat them. The SSA will take these factors into consideration:

  • Pain intensity, location, and frequency
  • Activities that increase, alleviate or cause you pain
  • How pain affects your daily life
  • Medications you take to treat your pain as well as their known side effects
  • Other treatments you tried that didn’t improve your symptoms
  • Additional factors that affect pain

Applying and getting Social Security disability approval for sciatica is more challenging than other conditions. That’s why we recommend you seek out the advice of an advocate or attorney. This person can help you determine if you have a winnable case before you apply. Sign up for a free, no-obligation phone call with a nearby attorney today to review your case.

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Megan Kelly is a former blogger and copywriter for LeadingResponse.