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Social Security Disability Benefits For Herniated or Bulging Disc

I have been diagnosed with herniated disk. Can I apply for Social Security disability benefits (SSI/SSDI), Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), or Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI)?

If you have a diagnosis of herniated disk, it can mark the start of the application process. The main focus in a Social Security disability claim is typically on the symptoms you experience from a herniated disc and how those symptoms affect your ability to engage in physical and mental work, eight (8) hours per day, five (5) days per week (full-time).

A herniated disk is also commonly known as a slipped disc or a ruptured disc. It refers to any of the spinal discs, which are donut-like cushions that serve as shock absorbers between the bones of your spine. When one of these cushions ruptures or tears, the soft substance inside it gets pushed out (herniates).

The most common symptoms of a slipped disk are pain in the arm and/or leg, numbness or tingling around the affected parts, and muscle weakness. The impairment often affects the lower back (lumbar spine), but can also occur around the neck (cervical spine). There are also cases of herniated disks that have no painful symptoms at all, but simply appear on imaging tests such as x-rays.

To determine if you are truly disabled by a herniated disc, the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a 5-step process.

Step 1. Are you working?

The first step is for the SSA to look at your work activity. If you are engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) you will not be found disabled. The amount you must earn to be working at SGA changes each year. For 2018 it is $1,180 per month if you are not blind and $1,970 per month if you are blind. If you are working, and your earnings average more than the SGA limit, then you will not be found disabled. If you are not working, or your earnings are less than SGA, the process proceeds to Step 2 where your herniated disk and any other physical or mental conditions are considered.

Step 2. Is your medical condition “severe”?

By SSA standards, you are disabled if your medical condition significantly limits your ability to do basic work activities such as sitting; standing; walking; lifting; carrying; understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions; making simple work-related decisions; responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and work stress; and dealing with changes in a routine work setting.

Is a Bulging Disc Eligible For Disability?

Further, to be found disabled, you must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment (or a combination of impairments) that is severe and has lasted or is expected last one (1) year or end in death. If your medical condition is not that severe, you will not be found to meet the requirements for Social Security disability benefits. If your condition is that severe, the SSA goes to Step 3.

Step 3. Does your medical condition meet or equal the severity of a Listing?

A “listing” refers to an item on the Social Security Administration’s list of medical criteria that are considered to be so severe that you will be found disabled if your medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) matches them. The Adult Listing for herniated disc can be found here.

If you do not have an impairment that meets or equals one of the listings or the duration requirement is not met, SSA determines what you’re capable of doing despite your impairments. This is your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). The process will then proceed to Step 4.

RFC is a function-by-function assessment of your maximum ability to do sustained work-related physical and mental activities on a regular and continuing basis (8 hours a day, for 5 days a week) despite the limitations and restrictions resulting from your medically determinable impairments.  In short, it is an evaluation of your capacity for full-time work.

Step 4. Can you do any of the jobs you have performed in the past fifteen (15) years?

Here, the SSA decides if your medical condition prevents you from being able to work full-time at jobs you have done in the past fifteen (15) years. If SSA decides you can perform any of your past relevant work (PRW), you will be found not disabled. To be PRW, the work must have been substantial gainful activity (SGA); performed in the fifteen (15) year relevant period; and performed long enough to learn the job. If SSA decides you cannot perform your past relevant work, or you have not worked in the past fifteen (15) years, SSA goes on to Step 5.

You have the burden of proof at Step 4. Two of the strongest types of evidence at this stage are medical records and the opinions of the doctors who are treating you for the conditions that are affecting your ability to work. The strongest medical evidence is what is known as objective medical evidence, or evidence that does not rely upon what you tell your doctors. The strongest opinions are opinions that are offered by doctors who specialize in the condition that is keeping you from working and which are supported by objective medical evidence.

Is a Herniated Disc Considered a Disability?

Some types of objective medical evidence that can support a claim for disability based upon herniated disk include:

  • General clinical records
  • Documentation of medically prescribed treatment and response
  • Imaging results (MRI, CT scan, or x-ray)
  • Clinical notes of specialists, such as those describing decreased range of motion and reduced muscular strength

Doctors who specialize in treating herniated disks include:

  • Orthopedists – specialists who focus on the musculoskeletal system (bones, muscles, nerves, joints, tendons, ligaments, and skin)
  • Neurosurgeons (spine surgeons) – focus on surgical and nonsurgical treatments for the nervous system
  • Physiatrists (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physicians) – treat medical conditions of the brain and musculoskeletal system

Bear in mind that if you are only treating with a primary care doctor or your family doctor for your herniated disc, the SSA may interpret this as meaning that your condition is not that serious (otherwise you would be treating with a specialist). An experienced Social Security disability lawyer can help you locate sources of treatment (even if you don’t have health insurance).

Step 5. Can you do any other type of work?

Here, the “burden of proof” shifts to the SSA. If you cannot do your past relevant work, SSA looks to see if you would be able to do other work. It evaluates your medical condition, your age, education, past work experience, and any skills you may have that could be used to do other work. If you can do other work, SSA will determine you are not disabled. If you cannot do other work, SSA will find you disabled.

If you are older than 50, there are special rules that may apply to your claim that can result in a finding of disability even if there is some other work you could perform on a full-time basis. An experienced Social Security disability lawyer will be familiar with these rules and can ensure that they are considered in the evaluation of your case.

Contact Gillette Law Group

With the pain you suffer and the restrictions in your life, you should not have to bear this condition alone. Social security disability benefits may be available to you as a great relief. For your best chances of successfully claiming these benefits, let the Gillette Law Group help you. Our team is highly experienced in claims like yours, and we have effectively assisted numerous people, whether initial applicants or previously-denied claimants.

Don’t wait to claim what you may deserve. Talk to us in a consultation that’s absolutely free. Call (855) 873-2604 today.

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