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Can You Get Disability for Back Pain?

Disability benefits exist to help people who cannot work maintain their standard of living. In most cases, disabilities develop over time due to wear-and-tear from daily work or medical conditions. Sometimes injuries cause permanent disabilities that prevent the injured person from returning to work. There are numerous conditions that qualify for disability benefits, and back pain is one of the most commonly claimed conditions in America.

Persistent back pain can develop from various conditions or simply age, but Social Security only awards disability benefits to individuals with a “medically determinable” condition. This means if you seek disability benefits for your chronic back pain, you will need to prove you have some abnormality in your spinal structure that causes significant pain.

How Disability Benefits are Determined

Social Security evaluates every claim for disability benefits based on several factors. The investigation of a claim is not only to determine the severity of the pain a claimant experiences, but also the credibility of the claim. A claim needs to include clear documentation from the claimants’ physicians and specialists that match Social Security’s definitions for qualifying impairments. Unfortunately for many Americans, back pain caused by natural aging is not covered under disability benefits, no matter how severe the pain may be.

Once Social Security receives a claim, it will investigate the claimant’s medical history in relation to the back pain. Doctors’ documentation is important for this stage of the claims process because Social Security will not only match the symptoms with Social Security’s requirements for qualification, it will also take any functional limitations into account. For example, a limited range of motion or difficulty walking would be functional limitations. Finally, Social Security will review several other factors to gauge the claimant’s credibility. No one can accurately assess the pain another person feels, so all reports about an individual’s pain level are subjective.

To establish a claim’s credibility, Social Security will investigate the lengths the claimant has gone to treat the back pain. This could include the claimant’s frequency in visiting the doctor, treatment plans tried, medications taken, doctors’ opinions, the impact of the back pain on daily life, and whether the claimant’s description of the back pain is consistent with others who have reported the same condition, or those who have similar physical characteristics.

Conditions that Qualify

Unless a claimant has a medically documented case of a definite impairment known to create serious back pain, Social Security will likely deny a claim for disability benefits. Some conditions that create back pain include herniated discs, scoliosis, spinal stenosis, arachnoiditis, and rheumatoid arthritis. These conditions will typically qualify a claimant for disability benefits if Social Security can verify his or her claim and credibility. Back pain may be a prominent indicator of these conditions, but these ailments typically entail several other symptoms in addition to back pain. Social Security does not consider back pain alone caused by natural degeneration over time as a qualifying condition.


If you experience severe back pain but have not been diagnosed with any of the qualifying conditions for disability benefits, there are several options you can explore. First, you should consult your doctor about alternative treatments if what you’ve been doing hasn’t relieved your back pain. You may also want to investigate psychological counseling to see if your pain levels exceed what would reasonably be expected of your physical condition.

You also may want to get a second opinion from another doctor or specialist if your physician is unable to identify a definite issue. If you need to file a claim for disability benefits in the future, a record that you investigated multiple treatment options and alternative doctors will help boost the credibility of your claim.