Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is one of the most common conditions leading people to apply for SSDI benefits. Your spine’s discs provide a ‘cushioning effect’ between the spine vertebrae. DDD occurs when your discs shrink, thus reducing this “cushion.” Experiencing pain, which can be severe, when sitting or standing for extended periods of time, is common among people with degenerative disc disorder. While this pain may be intermittent for some people, who are able to work, others experience severe and chronic pain which makes them unable to work.
SSDI claims based on DDD can be difficult to win, especially for people who are younger than 40 or 50 (the younger you are, the more challenging your claim will be). Why? In my experience there are two main factors:
1) Many claims do not contain sufficient objective evidence of severe DDD in the form of MRI or CT scan records; and
2) Social Security decision makers – adjudicators and judges – consider DDD to be a common, often mild and often treatable condition. Many patients do not meet the duration requirement that a disabling impairment is expected to last for 12 months or more. While discs do not re-generate spontaneously, pain and activity limitations may subside with physical therapy, anti-inflammatory treatments, or for no particular reason at all. In other words, a diagnosis of degenerative disc disease does not mean that you are disabled and thus automatically eligible for SSDI benefits.
What the SSA Looks for in Evaluating DDD Cases
When the SSA reviews your disability application for DDD, it looks at your medical records (from your doctor) for:
- treatment notes stating your diagnosis, and
- objective evidence (imagery) of disc deterioration from x-ray reports, CAT scans, or MRIs. Continue reading