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Disorders of the Spine

Disability Listing 1.04 explains disorders of the spine, which may form the basis for a Social Security disability claim. The major areas covered include a variety of conditions, such as damaged or slipped disks, which, coupled with inflammation or compression, leave the patient unable to walk effectively for a period of at least twelve months.

Spinal disorders are actually quite common. Up to one half million Americans suffer from a narrowing of the spinal canal (stenosis). Osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition, is present in about 27 million – which is fully one in twelve residents of this country. Many disorders, moreover, are chronic, or have no effective treatment other than analgesics.

Covered Disorders
Herniated nucleus pulposus – This is a slipped disk along the spinal cord. It occurs when a part of the disk becomes weakened, forcing the relatively soft center to dislodge.

Spinal arachnoiditis – The arachnoid is a protective membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord. Arachnoiditis is an inflammation of this membrane, often caused by meningitis, degenerative disk disease, tuberculosis, or trauma to the spine, such as may occur in a fall or accident. Multiple spinal taps may also lead to inflammation of the arachnoid. Symptoms can include lower body pain, burning, stinging, numbness, and a range of other problems. The condition is not curable, so that treatment generally focuses on reducing inflammation and relieving pain.

Spinal Stenosis – A canal runs through the center of the spine which can, through disease or damage, become abnormally narrowed. This in turn restricts nerves in the spinal cord, and can result in neurological deficit. Pain, numbness, and loss of motor control are common symptoms. The condition can be of two types which refer to the area of the spinal cord that is affected: lumbar stenosis and cervical stenosis. The former is more common, found in 1 out of every 1,000 persons older than 65. Lumbar spinal stenosis can result in pseudoclaudication, which is a painful cramping that can become severe. However, the latter, cervical stenosis, is regarded as much more serious because the result is compression of the spinal cord.

Osteoarthritis – An extremely painful, degenerative condition of the joints which can affect bones and cartilage. Symptoms range from joint pain to tenderness, stiffness, and even locking of joints. The cause can be hereditary, but can also be due to metabolic or mechanical issues. In essence, the cartilage protecting bones becomes damaged. Secondary issues often result, such as muscle atrophy, as patients find movement extremely painful.

Degenerative disc disease – This is a degeneration of the intervertebral disc of the spine. To some extent, degeneration is a natural result of aging. However, some individuals suffer chronic, severe pain to the lower back which radiates to other areas, such as the hips. A tingling or weakness in the knees is often experienced. Walking becomes problematic. Other areas of the spine where disc degeneration occurs, such as the neck, can lead to further complications, including interruption to the blood supply, which in turn may cause headaches, vertigo, and even memory problems.

Facet arthritis – Facet joints are structures within the spinal column which facilitate movement. The human body possesses 32 facet joints which, under healthy conditions, are strong and balanced. However, given that every movement involving the torso relies on these joints, one can imagine that over a lifetime significant wear, and even tearing, can occur. When facet joints are weakened, slipped discs can result. Often individuals suffer debilitating pain in the back from this condition, which then extends down through the upper legs. Diagnosis of facet arthritis can be difficult because, absent imaging testing, it is hard to detect.

Vertebral Fractures – Compression fractures involving the vertebrae can occur when bones of the spine are broken through some sort of trauma, such as in a fall or accident. These bones are large enough that, absent such trauma, they generally hold up well under a lifetime of use. An exception to this occurs in individuals, particularly the elderly, who suffer bone cancers. In such a case the bones may become brittle and weak, and break without force. The most common vertebrae that are involved in fractures are those of the lower back.

Receiving benefits
Listing 1.04 requires that, in order for a disorder of the spine to be covered by SSD, it must render the individual unable to “effectively” ambulate, or walk, for a period of not less than twelve months. What defines effective walking can be somewhat subjective, so that SSA will rely on the expert opinion of treating physicians. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to submit to a further examination by a medical specialist chosen by Social Security.

When you apply for benefits, make sure you include all supportive materials. If your claim is denied initially, you may need to go through as many as two appeals before gaining a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge. It is advisable that you secure the services of a New York disability attorney to assist you with the more complex issues of your claim.

A New York disability lawyer can help you with all aspects of your Social Security Disability claim. Statistics show that claimants tend to have a greater chance of winning, particularly on appeal, when they have an attorney on their side. For a free evaluation, call Herbert Forsmith at (212) 809-1772.