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Can I Work With a Herniated Disc?

If a herniated disc is causing you to suffer severe pain and experience limitations that make it unable for you to work, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

A herniated disc, which is sometimes called a ruptured disc, results from the cushioning between the two vertebrae being pushed out of its position.

This leads to nerves near the discs becoming irritated and pinched leading to compression. While herniated discs can be the result of something sudden like an accident, they can be caused from gradual deterioration.

While the symptoms that you suffer from a herniated disc can vary significantly, it can cause severely impacted mobility, debilitating pain, and numbness and tingling.

This pain may keep you from working, which means that you may be entitled to compensation. Contacting a Social Security Disability lawyer will help you understand the potential benefits and how to access them. A disability attorney can help you review the SSA's Blue Book to see if you medically qualify as well as how it may keep you from working.

Impacting Your Ability to Work

Herniated discs can severely limit your mobility and cause excruciating pain so your ability to perform your daily tasks, let alone your work duties, can be significantly impacted. Severe pain that originates in the back can radiate down the legs and limit your ability to walk or stand significantly.

If you experience numbness and tingling, that can also impact your ability to do normal tasks, such as bathing or dressing yourself, let alone work. Because of the impacted mobility, you may require a walker or cane so you can get around.

Severe pain often requires the use of pain medications. Most painkillers cause side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness, which can make it impossible for you to drive or operate machinery. While you may choose to undergo a surgical procedure, that is not always effective in resolving the pain issues.

You may have to undergo intensive therapy and rehabilitation and still not see a significant improvement in mobility resulting in the need to frequently reposition yourself and not stand or sit in one position for more than an hour at a time which makes working impossible.

Your symptoms, particularly the pain, tingling, and limited mobility, can keep you from being able to lift, carry, or reach, which limits your normal functioning as well as your ability to maintain your job.

If you can not work because of a herniated disc, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Limitations for Specific Jobs

With herniated discs, you would not be able to perform a variety of job tasks. You can’t work in construction, manufacturing, or warehouse jobs because they require regular reaching, lifting, and carrying. Your limited mobility and pain would make those activities impossible.

Because your pain medication causes dizziness and drowsiness, you can’t work in a manufacturing environment where you use machinery, lathes, or saws or be a commercial vehicle operator.

Because of the pain, numbness, and tingling you experience, sedentary work is impossible because of the radiating pain and feeling of pins and needles throughout your back and legs.

You couldn’t work as a heavy equipment operator or as a mail carrier because of the being positioned in a seat and how it would impact your pain and then how your pain medicine will make vehicle operation dangerous.

If you can prove you are unable to perform any kind of work and why, you are legally disabled per the Social Security Administration guidelines.

Qualifying for a Herniated Disc With the Blue Book

The Social Security Administration will evaluate claims for Social Security disability benefits for herniated discs using the Disability Evaluation Under Social Security, commonly known as the Blue Book. Herniated discs fall under section 1.00 Musculoskeletal System, specifically under section 1.04 Disorders of the Spine.

Under the Blue Book guidelines, disorders of the spine can be caused by anything from hereditary conditions to damage from an accident. Herniated discs are the result of the cushioning between two vertebrae from slipping out of place, resulting in pinched nerves that can lead to extreme pain and loss of function.

Given the resulting pain and limited mobility from a herniated disc, the SSA will evaluate your application and determine whether it’s appropriate to award disability benefits based on your condition.

What they’re looking for is that your herniated disc prevents you from walking or standing for a prolonged period or the inability to perform a task requiring fine and gross movements on a sustained basis.

The effects of your herniated disc must have either lasted for 12 months or are expected to last for at least 12 months in order to be considered for disability benefits.

Herniated Disc Back Pain

Qualifying for a Herniated Disc Under a Medical Vocational Allowance

One of the reasons that the Social Security Administration requires a diagnosis to have lasted or be expected to last 12 months is that some herniated discs can be the result of trauma or another condition, so the limited mobility is a temporary condition that is not expected to last.

In other cases, you might be able to perform certain tasks on a limited or modified basis, and so you would not qualify for disability benefits. You might qualify for a medical-vocational allowance.

The medical-vocational allowance is used when the SSA determined that your medical condition doesn’t fulfill all of the requirements to qualify for disability benefits but it is acknowledged that your condition will prevent you from performing all aspects of your job.

The SSA will examine your age, past work experience and your residual function capacity (RFC) along with the exertional and nonexertional limitations of your condition to determine whether the medical-vocational allowance is right for you.

Residual function capacity is the maximum amount of work that you can do based on your condition. The SSA will examine your medical documentation to determine how much work you would be able to complete as a result of your herniated disc.

Nonexertional demands include mental ability, posture and balance, and the use of your hands along with the ability to communicate orally as well as the ability to hear. Exertional demands, which would be impacted by a herniated disc, include walking, standing, sitting, lifting, carrying items or pushing and pulling something.

In the case of a herniated disc, your ability to work might be impacted by the exertional demands of the job. For example, if you work as a postal worker, your ability to perform the demands of your job would be impossible. While you might have limited mobility from your herniated disc, you might not be able to walk for long periods of time, pick up packages or stand in one place as needed.

Though you might be able to do those things on a limited basis, you wouldn’t be able to perform your job as required. This would make the medical-vocational allowance a possibility.

In order to make the determination on your case, you need to make sure that the Social Security Administration has all of your medical information and that your application is as complete as possible when you submit your claim.

What Medical Evidence You Need

When you apply for Social Security benefits with a herniated disc, you want to make sure you have as much medical evidence as you can. Medical evidence is key to any Social Security claim, as it will back up your case that you can no longer work full time with a herniated disc.

The Blue Book, which the informal term for the guide the SSA uses to determine a disability, has a list of medical evidence that you need for when you send in your application for Social Security disability benefits.

The SSA will want a full report of the examination of the spine that includes, but not limited to:

  • The range of motion of the spine in degrees from a vertical position (zero degrees)
  • A detailed description of a person’s gait
  • Signs of tension and Presence of muscle spasms
  • Hand grip and pinch strength

You are able to access the entire Blue Book online, there it will include more medical evidence you need for your herniated disc case.

Doctor Examines Herniated Disc

What Happens If My Condition Worsens Over Time?

If left untreated, a herniated disc can get worse over time. Potentially leading to more permanent damage to your spine and nervous system. Because a herniated disc can get worse, this can impact your social security benefits in a couple of ways. If you have not yet applied, continuing to work can put extra strain on your back making it difficult to recover. Even if you are able to work now, if the condition is getting worse, there will be a point where you are unable to continue doing your job. If this is the case for you, consider getting started with the application process immediately.

A worsening condition can also affect you if you have already applied for disability benefits. It is important to know that you are able to apply for disability benefits multiple times. Therefore if you have been denied previously, that does not mean that you cannot apply again. One of the most common reasons for denial is that you were not able to prove that your condition made it impossible to make a living at the time. This could be due to lack of medical evidence, or that you were unable to meet the blue book listings. As the condition changes, that means that you will have the opportunity to gather new medical evidence. Be sure to keep track of all doctors diagnosis as well as any predictions about the progression of your back injury.

It is important to know that if your herniated disc does get worse, that does not mean that you will be given more in disability benefits. Disability benefits are based on your previous work history and not the severity of your condition.

Bulging Disc vs Herniated Disc

Bulging discs and herniated discs are similar. Both are conditions that affect the discs in between the vertebrae of the spine. These discs act as shock absorbers throughout the back and allow for the mobility of the spine. The main difference between the two is the severity of the condition. While both can be painful, a bulging disc is generally less severe. However, if left untreated or if overused, the bulging disc can become a herniated disc.

Both a bulging disc and a herniated disc are caused by general wear and tear on the back that happens over time. As one ages, the discs in your back become less and less flexible. This means that something minor can cause the condition to occur and even worsen. If you have a bulging disc, it is important that you are able to get the proper treatment because it will often get worse with age and use.

If you have been diagnosed with a bulging or herniated disc, it is important that you start the disability benefits process immediately. Needing to take significant time off of work is common with these conditions. Unfortunately, if you need to take time off of work for proper recovery, your bills do not stop. That is why it is important to get started with the disability benefits process today.

Paying Medical Bills

How to Apply for Social Security Benefits with a Herniated Disc?

If herniated discs have made working impossible for you, you may be ready to apply for Social Security disability benefits. There are several different ways you can choose to start the process.

You can go online to the Social Security Administration (SSA) website and start the application or call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 and ask to start your application over the phone.

You can also schedule an appointment at your nearest SSA office to go get things underway in person. To prove your case and get your claim approved, you need to provide as much documentation as possible to back up your claim and show your diagnoses and the severity of your symptoms.

Talk to Social Security Attorney

If you seek the counsel of a Social Security Attorney, you are much more likely to have your claim approved. An attorney can be hugely beneficial; you will have a competent professional fighting on your behalf to get the benefits that you deserve.

Additional Resources

Why Your Herniated Disc May Have Been Denied
Applying for Social Security with Herniated Disc