Do you have back pain? Is the pain so debilitating that you cannot concentrate, much less think about working? If the answer is yes, you may qualify for disability benefits.
There are several back disorders that may allow you to qualify for disability benefits. The following spine and back disorders highlight some of the most common conditions, treatments, symptoms and information on how they can support a disability claim:
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis occurs when the space around the spinal cord narrows. The spinal cord, similar to electric cables, carries messages between your brain and muscles. These “nerves” branch out from the spinal cord through openings in the vertebrae. When the opening narrows, pressure is put on the spinal cord and nerve roots, which can cause pain, numbness or weakness in the legs.
Some symptoms of spinal stenosis include:
• Burning pain in the buttocks or legs
• Numbness or tingling in the buttocks or legs
• Weakness in the legs or foot drop
• Less pain with leaning forward or sitting
Diagnostic tests are important when confirming a diagnosis for a back disorder. Some of the most common tests performed include X-ray’s, MRI’s, bone scans or a nerve study (EMG). Diagnostic testing provides undeniable proof that a diagnosis does exist and will further support your disability claim.
Some treatment options include physical therapy, medications, steroid injections and/or chiropractic manipulation. Other more invasive treatment options include a laminectomy, spinal fusion or decompression.
If you have any of these symptoms, have undergone testing for spinal stenosis or are being treated for the condition, and you are unable to work you should consider applying for disability benefits.
Osteoarthritis of the Spine
Osteoarthritis can occur in the lumbar or cervical spine. Osteo (meaning bone) arthritis affects weight bearing joints including the spine. Arthritis is a general term that indicates tenderness, pain, swelling and joint stiffness. Spinal arthritis is the mechanical breakdown of cartilage of the joints and discs in the neck and lower back.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
• Stiffness or pain in the neck or back
• Weakness or numbness in the legs or arms
Treatment typically is geared toward relieving the pain and increasing the joint’s ability to function. Some treatments include exercise, stretching, weight reduction, quitting smoking and medication management. Medication is typically used to reduce the inflammation, which also reduces the pain and stiffness.
Spondylosis is a condition in which one of the vertebrae slips out of place onto the vertebrae below it. The word “spondylolisthesis” comes from the Greek words spondylos,which means vertebrae, and listhesis,which means to slip or slide.
Symptoms of spondylosis include:
• low back pain
• muscle spasms
• pain spreading down the leg to the foot.
This disorder is diagnosed by X-ray, CT scan or MRI scan. There are four different grades of slippage:
• Grade I, 1-25% slipped
• Grade II, 26-50% slipped
• Grade III, 51 – 75% slipped
• Grade IV, 76-100% slipped.
Generally, grades I and II are treated medically while grades III and IV may require surgery.
Some conservative treatment options include medication management, back brace, and/or exercise or physical therapy program. Physical therapy is also an option that may provide some relief. In severe cases surgery is required in order to treat the condition.
Typically two surgical procedures are used to treat spondylolisthesis – decompressive laminectomy or spinal fusion. A laminectomy involves removing part of the bone that is pressing on the nerves. A spinal fusion is where a piece of bone is transplanted to the back of the spine to provide stability.
Degenerative Disc Disease
This is a term that is used to describe changes in the spinal discs that occur with age and wear. These changes include loss of fluid in your discs as well as tiny cracks that can form over time. Spinal discs are soft compressible discs that separate the interlocking vertebrae. The discs act as a shock absorber for the spine. When the disc space collapses the spine becomes unstable which sometimes results in pain.
Degenerative disc disease can occur in the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine. The changes in the discs can result in osteoarthritis, herniated disc and/or spinal stenosis. Changes in the spinal disc most often occur in people who smoke cigarettes and those who do heavy physical work.
The most common symptom of degenerative disc disease is back or neck pain. The pain generally occurs in the location of the affected disc. The pain is thought to stem from inflammation and/or instability. However, not all people will develop these symptoms.
This disorder is diagnosed through a medical history and physical exam. In some cases an X-ray will be used. The general treatment is medication and/or the use of ice or heat. Further treatment may be required depending on whether the damaged disc has resulted in other conditions such as osteoarthritis, herniated disc or spinal stenosis.
Facet arthritis is the inflammation of one or more of the facet joints. Facet joints are the linking joints positioned along the spine’s vertebrae. The facet joints provide stability and motion between the vertebrae. With age, these joints can thicken and harden leading to pain, swelling and tenderness.
Facet arthritis is most commonly found in the back.
Symptoms of Facet Arthritis
• pain in your lower back
• morning stiffness
• joint stiffness and swelling
• muscle weakness and tenderness
These conditions and disorders make up just a few of the most common disorders affecting the back. If you suffer from one or a combination of these disorders, you might be eligible for disability benefits. Contact a knowledgeable Social Security disability attorney to discuss your situation and confirm your eligibility.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by cooldesign
Elizabeth Gormley, Esq. is LaBovick Law Group's lead Social Security disability and Veterans Affairs attorney. Ms. Gormley is well-versed in SSD law and reviewing medical records. She is a VA accredited attorney.
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