If you’re applying for Social Security Disability benefits, you might hear people say that the approval process is difficult, stressful, and time-consuming. That is sometimes the case, but it’s not exactly a rule that all applicants have a difficult time. There are many conditions for which Social Security offers a quick approval, based upon the diagnosis. However, back pain can be an extraordinarily large category, and symptoms can vary significantly from one person to the next. So, in many cases, when you hear that Social Security Disability benefits are difficult to obtain, these people are referring to back pain cases.
Why are back pain cases often more complicated and difficult to get through the system? Essentially, the answer comes down to the fact that pain is a symptom, not a diagnosis of its own. You can suffer back pain from a variety of conditions, such as slipped discs, pulled muscles, arthritis, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, and many others. So, the first thing to understand is that you might know one person with back pain who received a quick approval for Social Security Disability, and another who required multiple appeals. This usually comes down to the fact that conditions are viewed differently (and some people have yet to obtain a definite diagnosis as the cause of their symptoms).
Second, pain is a self-reported symptom. There is no test to diagnose the presence of pain or to determine what level of pain a person is feeling. Since pain can vary from one condition to the next, and even from one person to the next even when both suffer from the same condition, Social Security must take their time to carefully review all facts related to each case.
How Social Security evaluates your back pain. Because back pain is such a common complaint, Social Security must carefully determine the cause of the pain in addition to the likely severity. The do this by looking at three factors:
- Your symptoms – to see if they match their requirements for spinal disorders
- Your functional limitations – comparing your range of motion with the type of work you are eligible to perform
- Your credibility – because pain is self-reported
How is “credibility” determined? As frustrating as this part of the process can be, Social Security examiners need to feel convinced that your reported pain is significant enough to prevent gainful employment. They will take a look at factors such as how often you’ve visited a doctor, what treatments you have tried, your symptoms as compared to others with the same condition, and your doctor’s opinion on your level of pain and ability.
As you can see, processing disability claims based on back pain can be more complex than many other types of disability cases. For that reason, we suggest you contact us if you have previously been denied Social Security Disability benefits. We can help you decide what was possibly missing from your file, and how you can gather the additional evidence needed to proceed with an appeal.