Qualifying For Disability With Back Pain

Many of us live with some form of back pain or arthritis.  Although at times uncomfortable, most of us are able to continue to work despite our limitations.  Back pain alone will not qualify a claimant for disability benefits.

To qualify for benefits, your claim will be evaluated under the Social Security Administation (SSA) five step sequential evaluation process.  First, you must show that you are not engaging in substantial gainful activity and that your back condition is a severe impairment. Your condition must be supported by medical tests and documentation such as x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), treatment notes , chiropractic care, physical therapy and/or pain management.

At step 3, SSA will evaluate your claim to determine if you meet or equal a listing for your back condition.  The applicable listing for back injuries is found at Listing 1.04.

1.04 Disorders of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, vertebral fracture), resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including the cauda equina) or the spinal cord. With:

A. Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is involvement of the lower back, positive straight-leg raising test (sitting and supine);


B. Spinal arachnoiditis, confirmed by an operative note or pathology report of tissue biopsy, or by appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by severe burning or painful dysesthesia, resulting in the need for changes in position or posture more than once every 2 hours;


C. Lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudoclaudication, established by findings on appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by chronic nonradicular pain and weakness, and resulting in inability to ambulate effectively, as defined in 1.00B2b.

If you do not meet or equal a listing, your case will be evaluated under steps 4 and 5 to determine if you can do your past work, or if there are any other jobs that you can still do despite all of your limitations.