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Am I Disabled with Herniated Discs?


11.27 - Am I Disabled with Herniated Discs-min
Can Herniated Discs Cause Permanent Disability?

If you have been diagnosed with herniated discs, you may be wondering if you qualify as disabled and what benefits you can get. Herniated discs are a common spinal condition that can cause severe pain, numbness, weakness, and limited mobility. In some cases, herniated discs can interfere with your ability to work and perform daily activities. This article explains what herniated discs are, how they are diagnosed and treated, and how they can affect your disability status.

What Are Herniated Discs?

Herniated discs, also known as slipped or ruptured discs, occur when the soft inner material of the discs that cushion the vertebrae of the spine bulges out through a tear or crack in the outer layer. This can put pressure on the spinal nerves or the spinal cord, causing pain and other symptoms. Herniated discs can happen anywhere along the spine, but they are most common in the lower back (lumbar spine) and the neck (cervical spine)

What Causes Herniated Discs?

Herniated discs can be caused by various factors, such as:

  • Aging – With age, discs lose water and become less flexible and more prone to tearing or rupturing.
  • Injury – Trauma to the spine, such as from a fall, car accident, or lifting something heavy, can damage the discs and cause them to herniate.
  • Genetics – Some people may have inherited a tendency to develop weak or defective discs.
  • Lifestyle – Factors such as obesity, smoking, poor posture, and lack of exercise can increase the stress on the spine and contribute to disc degeneration.

How Are Herniated Discs Diagnosed and Treated?

To diagnose herniated discs, your doctor will ask you about your medical history, symptoms, and physical activities. The doctor will also perform a physical exam to check your reflexes, muscle strength, sensation, and range of motion. You may also need imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scan, to confirm the location and severity of the disc herniation.

The treatment for herniated discs depends on several factors, such as the size and location of the disc herniation, the severity of your symptoms, your age, and your overall health. The most common treatments include:

  • Conservative treatment – This involves nonsurgical methods to relieve pain and inflammation, such as medication, physical therapy, chiropractic care, massage therapy, acupuncture, heat or ice therapy, and epidural steroid injections. Conservative treatment is usually recommended for mild to moderate cases of herniated discs that do not affect nerve function.
  • Surgery – This involves removing part or all of the damaged disc to decompress the nerve or spinal cord. Back surgery for herniated discs is usually reserved for severe cases that cause significant nerve compression, weakness, loss of bladder or bowel control, or do not respond to conservative treatment.

How Do Herniated Discs Affect Disability Status?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines disability as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to last for at least 12 months or result in death. SGA is the level of work activity and earnings that the SSA considers as evidence of your ability to work. In 2021, the SGA amount is $1,310 per month for non-blind individuals and $2,190 per month for blind individuals. 

Having herniated discs does not automatically qualify you as disabled. To determine if you are disabled, the SSA follows a five-step sequential evaluation process, which involves the following questions:

  • Are you working and earning above the SGA level? If yes, you are not disabled. If no, proceed to the next step.
  • Do you have a severe impairment that significantly limits your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities? If no, you are not disabled. If yes, proceed to the next step.
  • Does your impairment meet or equal a listing in the SSA's Blue Book? The Blue Book is a list of impairments and criteria that the SSA considers as disabling. If yes, you are disabled. If no, proceed to the next step.
  • Can you do the work that you did before? If yes, you are not disabled. If no, proceed to the next step.
  • Can you do any other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, considering your age, education, and work experience? If yes, you are not disabled. If no, you are disabled.

Herniated discs are included in the Blue Book under Section 1.04 (Disorders of the Spine). To meet this listing, you must have one of the following:

  • Evidence of nerve root compression, characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss accompanied by sensory or reflex loss, and positive straight-leg raising test (sitting and supine)
  • Spinal arachnoiditis, confirmed by an operative note or pathology report of tissue biopsy or by appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by severe burning or painful dysesthesia, resulting in the need for changes in position or posture more than once every 2 hours
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis, resulting in pseudoclaudication, established by findings on appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by chronic nonradicular pain and weakness and resulting in inability to ambulate effectively

If you do not meet or equal the listing, the SSA will assess your residual functional capacity (RFC), which is the most you can still do despite your limitations. Your RFC will determine what kind of work you can do, such as sedentary, light, medium, or heavy. The SSA will consider your medical records, symptoms, treatment, and statements from your doctors, yourself, and others who know about your condition. The SSA will then compare your RFC with the demands of your past work and other work that exists in the national economy. If you cannot do any work, you will be found disabled.

How Can I Apply for Disability Benefits with Herniated Discs?

If you think you may qualify for disability benefits with herniated discs, you should apply as soon as possible. You can apply online at, by phone at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), or in person at your local Social Security office.

To support your claim, you will need to provide:

  • Your Social Security number and proof of age
  • Your work history and earnings records
  • Your medical records and evidence of your diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis
  • Your doctor’s statements about your limitations and restrictions
  • Any other information that shows how your herniated discs affect your ability to work and function

Herniated discs are a common spinal condition that can cause severe pain and disability. If you have herniated discs that prevent you from working for at least 12 months, you may be eligible for disability benefits from the SSA. To apply for disability benefits, you will need to provide medical and nonmedical evidence that shows how your herniated discs affect your ability to work and function. Applying for disability benefits can be a complex and lengthy process. You may face delays, denials, or appeals. To increase your chances of getting approved, you may want to consult a disability attorney who can help you prepare your application, gather evidence, and represent you at hearings.

If you have a herniated disc that is not responding to conservative treatment, a discectomy or less invasive microdiscectomy may be discussed and potentially recommended. Although this is generally a very successful procedure,having a large hole in the outer ring of the disc more than doubles the risk of needing another operation.A new treatment, Barricaid, is a bone-anchored device that closes this hole, and 95 percent of Barricaid patients did not undergo a reoperation due to reherniation in a 2-year study timeframe. This treatment is done immediately following the discectomy—during the same operation—and does not require any additional incisions or time in the hospital. 

If you have any questions about the Barricaid treatment, ask your doctor or contact us at 844-705-1081.

For full benefit/risk information, please visit:

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