How to Qualify for SSD for Herniated Discs in 2024

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How to Qualify for SSD for Herniated Discs in 2024

Herniated discs can be painful and limiting. If one or more herniated discs prevent you from earning a living, you may qualify for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits. But, not everyone who suffers from a herniated disc will meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) definition of “disabled.” And, there are technical qualifications an SSD applicant must meet, regardless of the condition. 

What is a Herniated Disc? 

A herniated disc–also sometimes described as a “slipped disc” or “ruptured disc”–is technically known as a herniated nucleus pulposus. The condition occurs when the soft material inside one or more of the discs that provide cushioning between the bones of the spine bulges out of the disc. When this happens, spinal nerves can be compressed. 

Symptoms of a Herniated Disc

Some people have herniated discs and don’t even know it. But, when nerves are compressed, a herniated disc may cause symptoms including: 

  • Pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Slowed muscle reflexes
  • Muscle weakness
  • Postural changes

The pain, tingling, and other symptoms occur depending on where the herniated disc is. The lower back is the most common location for a symptomatic ruptured disc and may cause pain in the lower back and hip, as well as numbness, tingling, weakness, and other symptoms in the hips, legs, and feet. Herniation of discs between the cervical vertebrae can cause similar problems in the neck, shoulder, arms, and hands. 

Qualifying for SSD Benefits

To be eligible for Social Security disability, an applicant must: 

  • Have accrued a certain number of work credits across their career, 
  • Have accrued a certain number of “recent” work credits, 
  • Be medically unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA), and
  • Have been disabled or expected to remain disabled for at least 12 months

The number of work credits required will depend on your age when you became disabled. This is a hard-and-fast requirement for eligibility: if you haven’t earned enough work credits, you won’t be eligible for SSD, even if you are disabled by a herniated disc or other medical condition. 

The SSA measures SGA by the ability to earn above a certain threshold every month. That number changes every year. In 2024, the SGA cut-off is $1,550/month. If you can earn more than that amount, the SSA won’t consider you disabled, even if you have a qualifying medical condition. The SGA cut-off is different for blind applicants. In 2024, it’s $2,590/month. 

When Does a Herniated Disc Qualify You for SSD Benefits? 

Some herniated discs cause no symptoms, or few symptoms. Others are managed with relatively low-level treatments, such as applying heat or cold and taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen. If the pain is more severe and these over-the-counter and at-home remedies don’t work, your physician may suggest: 

  • Prescription pain medications
  • Steroids to reduce inflammation
  • Physical therapy to relieve the pressure on the nerve

Suppose the pain and other symptoms can be sufficiently addressed so that you can continue working in your current profession or engage in other substantial gainful activity. In that case, you likely won’t qualify for SSD benefits. Your doctor may suggest surgery if these remedies don’t work or provide limited relief. 

After surgery for a herniated disc–also called decompression surgery–the typical patient takes four to six weeks to regain full mobility. During that time, you may or may not be able to work, depending on your work and other factors. For some people, full recovery may take a bit longer. However, if your surgery is successful, you likely still won’t qualify for SSD. That’s because the SSA only considers you disabled for SSD purposes if your condition has lasted for at least 12 months, is expected to last for at least 12 months, or is expected to end in death. 

If pain and limitations persist after attempting all available treatments, you may be eligible for SSD. There are two ways to qualify medically for SSD: 

  • To meet or equal a condition listed in the Social Security “Blue Book,” or
  • To demonstrate that you have insufficient “residual functional capacity” to engage in SGA with your medical condition

Blue Book Listings for Spinal Disorders

The Blue Book provides for a disability finding for certain spinal conditions. For example, a spinal condition such as herniated discs may qualify a worker for SSD if it results in compromise of the nerve root and meets the following criteria: 

One or more of the following: 

  • Pain
  • Parasthesia
  • Muscle fatigue

AND 

Radicular distribution of neurological signs evidenced by: 

  • Muscle weakness, and
  • Nerve root irritation, tension or compression, and
  • Either:
    • Sensory changes, or
    • Decreased deep tendon reflexes

AND

Findings on imaging consistent with nerve compression

AND 

One of certain listed impairment-related limitations of musculoskeletal functioning 

As you can see, a significant amount of medical evidence can be required to establish that your condition meets or equals a Blue Book listing for a spinal problem. So, it’s best to tackle the SSD application process with the guidance of an experienced disability benefits advocate. 

Residual Functional Capacity

If your condition doesn’t meet or equal a Blue Book listing, you may still qualify for SSD if the SSA determines that your medical condition leaves you without sufficient residual functional capacity to engage in SGA. To make this determination, the SSA considers much more than the extent of your medical limitations. For example, they will look at your past work history, whether your skills are transferable, your level of education, and even your age. 

The SSA uses a grid to make this determination. Generally, workers with lower levels of educational attainment, lower skill levels, and of a more advanced age are more likely to be found to be disabled. 

Disability Help Group is Here for You

At Disability Help Group, we know how overwhelming the process of applying for SSD benefits ro appealing a denial can be. We also know how easy it is to lose out on benefits because you don’t know exactly what type of documentation the SSA is looking for, or because you don’t think to supplement your application on reconsideration, or simply because you don’t respond to a request in time. 

Our advocates have experience with every stage of the process and know how to help you put together the strongest application or appeal possible. To learn more about how we can help, call  800-800-3332 right now, or fill out our contact form here.

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