Spinal Arachnoiditis and Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits
Spinal arachnoiditis is the result of inflammation of the arachnoid, one of the many membranes that surround the spinal cord nerves. The cause of spinal arachnoiditis isn’t always clear; it can be the result of spinal trauma, meningitis, chronic compression or irritation of nerve roots, among other factors. Symptoms follow no specific pattern, can vary in intensity, and may worsen over time or become permanent. The most common symptom is a pain in the lower back and legs, but spinal arachnoiditis may also cause:
- Tingling, numbness or weakness in the legs;
- Muscle cramps, spasms or uncontrollable twitching;
- Bladder and bowel problems, or;
- The feeling of bugs crawling on your skin (hence the name).
Like other disorders of the spine, spinal arachnoiditis is included in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) disability blue book, which means you may be entitled to benefits if you can prove the condition interferes with your ability to work. To prove this, you will have to rely on more than simply an assertion of pain. Disability examiners don’t give credence to complaints of pain, because they are too subjective – one applicant’s severe is another’s mild. Many people who experience back pain manage the symptoms through treatment, i.e., chiropractic care, therapy or massage and/or over-the-counter pain medication, making complaints of pain, with nothing more, an inadequate method of determining the true effect of the diagnosis.
Spinal Arachnoiditis and Medical Documentation
The key to obtaining SSD benefits for spinal arachnoiditis is to provide medical documentation not only of the diagnosis but of its impact on your ability to work. The SSA listing for spinal arachnoiditis requires that an applicant show:
- One or more nerve roots are compromised, which can be proven by operative note or pathology report of tissue biopsy, or by appropriate medically acceptable imaging, such as MRI or CT scan;
- That the compressed nerve causes severe burning or painful dysesthesia (abnormal sensations), and;
- The need to change position or posture more than once every two hours.
Verifying the diagnosis should not be difficult if you have received regular treatment from a physician or specialist who has conducted medical tests to determine the cause of your pain. What will be more difficult is proving that the spinal arachnoiditis interferes with your ability to engage in substantial gainful activity. This is where consistent treatment from your physician becomes important. The more documentation that the medical file contains about your reports of pain, and the limits that pain places on your daily activities, the greater the odds that your application will be approved. That is whyit is important to always keep every appointment with your doctor, and to always discuss your pain, as well as what you can and cannot do – especially as it relates to work – at each visit.
Just as important as routinely updating your physician on your pain level is how your physician notes it in the record. The more specific your physician is in documenting your pain and how it interferes with your ability to work, the greater the chance that the SSA will approve your benefits application. Whenever possible, describe your pain in numbers, and make sure your physician reports it as such. This provides more precise, objective information on your condition, which will become important if you must appeal your case. That’s because the SSA no longer gives the opinion of your physician greater weight than the opinion of its medical experts, who will formulate an opinion on your condition without, in most cases, having either examined or even met you.
Physician 1: Patient experiences tingling in his right leg and needs to change position every 45 minutes.
Physician 2: Patient experiences tingling in his right leg 3 times a day, 7 days per week. Episodes last anywhere from 30 – 45 minutes, during which time patient is unable to concentrate or remain seated at his desk. Patient experiences pain as a result of his diagnosis, and must take a 3-5 minute standing or walking break every 45 minutes to alleviate the pain.
As you can see, the second description provides much more specific information not only on the impact the spinal arachnoiditis has on the applicant, but the negative impact it has on his ability to work. The more frequent descriptions such as this appear in the record, the higher the chance that the application will be approved.