SCOLIOSIS & PROVING DISABILITY
WHAT IS SCOLIOSIS?
Scoliosis is the abnormal curvature of the spine. If the curvature is severe it can cause pain and limit your mobility. The severity of your scoliosis depends upon the amount of your spinal curvature. In order to have scoliosis, your spine must curve to the side and have at least a mild curvature of 10+ degrees. However, a 10 degree curvature is mild and will not usually cause you to be unable to work.
Scoliosis curvatures range from 10+ degrees to 150 degrees. Some forms of scoliosis cause the spine to form a “C” shape. Other forms cause the spine to form an “S” shape.
Furthermore, some forms of scoliosis are rotational in nature. Scoliosis causes the sides of the body to look uneven. For example, your shoulders, waist, or hips may be uneven. Additionally, severe scoliosis can make your rib cage twist. This can damage your heart and lungs and also, make breathing difficult.
Scoliosis is one of the most common back conditions that people experience. For example, in the United States, almost 3 million cases of scoliosis are found every year. Additionally, at least 80% of scoliosis cases are idiopathic. This means that the doctors doesn’t know what is causing the condition. However, many scoliosis cases are genetic or occur because of trauma. Also, the condition can occur as a result of another disease.
FOUR TYPES OF SCOLIOSIS
Doctors define different forms of scoliosis from the cause of the condition. For example, your scoliosis may be due to genetics or it could be due to spinal trauma. These forms of scoliosis have different names, even though the end condition is the same.
1) CONGENITAL SCOLIOSIS
Congenital scoliosis is one form of scoliosis. This form of scoliosis is present at birth. It occurs because the spinal vertebra are malformed. Therefore, this form of scoliosis is usually hereditary or genetic.
If you are born with scoliosis, you may undergo surgery to straighten your spine. The goal of spinal surgery is to fuse the vertebrae so the spine cannot bend. This corrects the scoliosis deformity. Or, at the very least it prevents the curve from getting worse. Your doctor will try to correct the curvature by 50 percent or more.
Depending on how much flexibility is still in the spine, scoliosis surgery can also de-rotate spinal twisting. These changes can help your stand up straighter. They can also reduce the rib hump in your back. A rib hump is an imbalance in rib height causing one side of the rib cage to protrude more than the other. This is due to the presence of an abnormal spinal curvature, usually along the thoracic spine.
2) NEUROMUSCULAR SCOLIOSIS
Neuromuscular scoliosis is the second form of scoliosis. This form of scoliosis is usually secondary to a disease or another medical condition. Typically, the disease or medical condition impairs your ability to control the muscles that support the spine. For example, cerebral palsy is a neurological condition that can create scoliosis. Find more information on cerebral palsy. Another example of a disease that can cause scoliosis to occur is muscular dystrophy.
3) DEGENERATIVE SCOLIOSIS
Degenerative scoliosis is a third form of scoliosis. Degenerative scoliosis is caused by degeneration in the spine. For example, if you have arthritis in your spinal vertebrae, you may develop degenerative scoliosis. In other words, if your spine degenerates, it may start to curve. You may have a condition like Scheuermann’s disease.
Depending on the degree of spinal curvature, you may experience pain. Pain related to scoliosis can range from a dull ache to severe sciatica, which is pain down your legs. Scoliosis symptoms vary greatly, depending on factors such as your age and ongoing arthritis in your spine.
4) TRAUMATIC SCOLIOSIS
Traumatic scoliosis is the fourth form of scoliosis. This common form of scoliosis occurs when you have undergone some form of trauma to your spine. For example, over thirty years ago, this writer fell backwards out of a window (while trying to climb into the window to save her puppy who was trapped in a locked bathroom).
Unfortunately, there was a metal window well below the bathroom window and my low back landed on the side of the window well when I landed. Being young, the pain and the resulting year long bruise did not worry me too much. However, over time the injury did cause traumatic scoliosis of my lumbar spine. Every day people undergo similar injuries to their spine. Sadly, those injuries can result in scoliosis.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF SCOLIOSIS
Between 6 to 9 million people in the US have scoliosis. This number includes both children and adults. Common symptoms and signs of scoliosis include:
- One shoulder blade appearing more prominent than the other shoulder blade
- Uneven shoulders
- An uneven waist
- One hip that is higher than the other hip
- The side of the rib cage extends out in front
- A visibly curved spine
Scoliosis pain occurs when the curvature of the spine is so severe that it results in nerve compression of the nerves close to the spine. People who have a spinal curvature that is less than 20 degrees have a “mild” curvature. Those who have a spinal curvature between 25 and 40 degrees have a “moderate” curvature. Finally, people who have a spinal curvature that is more than 50 degrees have a “severe” curvature.
There are a number of different treatment options available for scoliosis. Your doctor will determine which treatment option is best for your individual circumstances. For example, if your scoliosis curve is mild, then your doctor will probably choose to monitor and observe your condition.
Another option the doctor might use is bracing. Bracing is usually done for teenagers with moderate scoliosis curves (between 25-45 degrees) that are still growing. The brace helps prevent further progression of the curve by putting pressure on the spine. Physical therapy and exercise can also be helpful. Because they can improve your posture, strengthen muscles, and increase your flexibility. Your doctor may ask you to do specific exercises for your spine.
Finally, for the most severe cases of scoliosis, where the curve is getting worse or causing significant symptoms, your doctor might recommend spinal fusion surgery. This surgery straightens the spine using rods, screws, and bone grafts. The fusion then forms a solid bone which makes your spine more stable. Hopefully, it will also prevent further damage. In some cases, nonfusion surgical techniques such as vertebral body tethering or magnetic growing rods may be an option. These procedures try to correct the curvature while keeping your spine mobile.
It is possible to have surgery that is less invasive to correct scoliosis. In those cases, doctors perform smaller incisions and use special instruments to correct the spinal curve. Obviously, this type of surgery results in reduced recovery time. However, not all cases can be cured with this type of surgery.
SCOLIOSIS CAN PREVENT YOU FROM WORKING
The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that if your scoliosis symptoms and back pain are severe, you may not be able to work a full time job. If you are unable to work full time for at least 12 months due to your scoliosis, then it is possible for you to qualify for SSDI and SSI benefits.
There are two types of Social Security benefits. The first type is Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI). This benefit requires you to have years of working a job and paying your taxes. The second type of benefit is Supplemental Security Income (SSI).This benefit is an addition to SSD benefits. Also, it is for people who have never worked or who have earned low wages.
Spinal conditions, like scoliosis, are one of the main reasons that people file for SSDI and SSI benefits. The SSA awards benefits to those whose scoliosis symptoms prevent them from working and doing activities of daily living.
MEDICAL EVIDENCE PROVES YOU DESERVE SSD BENEFITS
When you apply for SSDI and SSI benefits, the SSA will first look to your medical records to determine if they can pay you benefits. Medical records are crucial to winning benefits. Find out more about the importance of medical records in your SSD case.
The SSA obtains your medical records. Next, an SSA worker reviews your medical records. The worker will be looking for evidence about scoliosis. For example, the SSA will want to see the following items:
- medical imaging, such as MRI, CT scan, or X-ray that shows spinal curvatures
- physical exam notes or progress notes from your doctor that shows pain, muscle weakness, and reduced range of motion
- a record of your medications for pain and any side effects you may be experiencing from your medications
- the medical opinion of an expert in spinal conditions, like a surgeon or neurologist
- physical therapy records that help show your attempts to help your pain
- nerve conduction studies showing nerve compression
- records which show you use an assistive device, like a back brace, cane, walker, or wheelchair
- reports of any back operation for scoliosis or other spinal condition
Remember, it is your responsibility to supply your medical records to the SSA. You should ask your treating doctor to write a letter to the SSA that states you cannot work due to your severe back pain. The burden to prove that you deserve benefits is on you.
OBTAIN MEDICAL EVIDENCE FOR FREE OR LOW COST
If you are missing medical information, then you can make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can order tests, like an MRI or CT scan. This evidence helps you win your case. However, if you can’t afford to see a doctor, then you still have options.
For those who live in Utah, we have a list of free and low cost health resources you can contact for scoliosis treatment. Likewise, if you live in Nevada, we provide a list of Nevada’s free and low cost health resources to help you find a doctor. Read her for the list of Idaho clinics. Additionally, if you live in Colorado, learn more about free health resources.
Additionally, if you cannot afford treatment, you can request that SSA send you to one of their doctors. You can visit one of SSA’s doctors for free. They will write a report about your scoliosis. Further information about your free SSA doctor exam can be found on on this website. Also, more information is written below on this blog.
If the SSA sends you to a free exam with one of their doctors, make sure that you bring the things that you use to help you walk or sit. For example, bring your cane or walker to the exam. Also, if you use a brace for your back or other part of your body, then wear it. Finally, remember that at the exam you could be under investigation.
DOES SCOLIOSIS MEET SSA’S LISTING FOR BENEFITS?
In order for the SSA to pay you benefits for your spinal condition, they first decide if you meet the SSA’s rules:
- Your scoliosis must prevent you from doing the work you did before
- Next, it must prevent you from doing other similar work
- Finally, your medical condition must last or be expected to last at least one year. Or, it must be expected to result in death.
Additionally, you may be paid benefits because your back condition meets or equals an SSA listing. Sometimes, the SSA’s list of medical conditions is called the “Blue Book.” SSA’s rules, unfortunately, do not contain a specific listing for scoliosis.
Nevertheless, the SSA will use listing 1.15 to review your scoliosis. If you file for benefits for childhood scoliosis, then the SSA will use listing 101.15 to look at your child’s condition.
Likewise, if a curvature of the child’s spine is under ongoing surgical management, then the SSA will use SSA listing 101.21. Because scoliosis does not meet a listing, the SSA decides whether it “equals” a listing. See the Code of Federal Regulations under 20 C.F.R. § 416.926 for an explanation of what it means to “equal” a listing.
DOES YOUR SCOLIOSIS EQUAL LISTING 1.15 ?
The SSA uses listing 1.15 to decide whether or not your scoliosis “equals” a listing. However, other listings can also be used to look at scoliosis. For example, the SSA can pay you benefits under its listing for inflammatory arthritis if you have degenerative scoliosis.
1.15 Disorders of the skeletal spine resulting in compromise of a nerve root, as found in A, B, C, and D:
D. Impairment related physical limitation of musculoskeletal functioning that has lasted, or is expected to last, for a period of at least 12 months in a row and medical records of at least one of the following:
2. An inability to use one upper extremity to independently initiate, sustain, and complete work related activities involving fine and gross movements, and a documented medical need for a one handed, hand held assistive device that requires the use of the other upper extremity or a wheeled and seated mobility device involving the use of one hand; or
ANOTHER OPTION FOR SCOLIOSIS UNDER SSA’S LISTINGS
Under SSA’s listing for inflammatory arthritis, which is listing 14.09, there is an argument to be made for that your medical condition could equal listing 14.09. Part C of 14.09 states that ankylosing spondylitis meets a listing if the spinal curve reaches certain degrees of severity. Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory disease that, over time, can cause some of the bones in the spine to fuse together. This fusion makes the spine less flexible and can result in a hunched posture. This is similar to scoliosis. Therefore, your attorney can use this listing to argue that the SSA should pay you benefits. See below:
Listing 14.09 Part C. Ankylosing spondylitis or other spondyloarthropathies, with:
1. Ankylosis of the dorsolumbar or cervical spine as shown by appropriate medically acceptable imaging and measured on physical exam at 45° or more of flexion from the vertical position (zero degrees); or
2. Ankylosis of the dorsolumbar or cervical spine as shown by appropriate medically acceptable imaging and measured on physical exam at 30° or more of flexion (but less than 45°) measured from the vertical position (zero degrees), and involves two or more organs or body systems with one of the organs or body systems involved to at least a moderate level of severity.
SCOLIOSIS AND YOUR RESIDUAL FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY
Even if Social Security thinks that your scoliosis doesn’t meet or equal a listing, then they can still find you should be paid benefits. But, you must prove you cannot work at any job due to your condition. The way the SSA decides whether or not you can work is by looking at your residual functional capacity (RFC).
Your RFC is the medical finding of what you can physically do in a work setting, after taking into account all of your symptoms. Jobs require you to either sit, stand or walk. They may also require bending over and climbing stairs. Some jobs
The RFC includes both your physical and mental limits. For example, the SSA will define your ability to sit, stand, walk, and lift. They will also determine how long you can perform these activities during the course of an 8 hour workday. Likewise, the SSA will include your ability to carry, pull, and push. Find out more about how the SSA defines work.
WHAT EVIDENCE PROVES YOUR RFC FOR SCOLIOSIS?
In order to figure out your physical RFC, the SSA will examine your medical records. They will take into account what your doctor states in your medical records. Also, the SSA will review any statements from your doctors and from their own doctors. As stated earlier, if you have an X-ray that shows the degree of the curve in your spine, then you might meet a listing. Make sure the SSA has a copy of that medical record. Learn more here about what you need from your doctor to be paid SSD benefits.
You also have the option to have a Residual Functional Capacity form filled out by your treating doctor. Your treating doctor knows more about your scoliosis than anyone. They can document the impact pain is having on your ability to work.
The SSA will also consider descriptions about your limits from you, your family, neighbors and friends. For example, your family or friends could write a statement about your physical symptoms. Find out more here about RFC and your age work together to show you cannot work. Also, find out more about SSA’s Medical Vocational Guidelines.
OTHER EVIDENCE THAT PROVES YOUR RFC
When the SSA decides your (RFC), they also use your statements on the forms you fill out for them. For example, when you fill out your daily activity form, you will talk about the things you can do on a daily basis. The SSA will ask you about your hobbies. If you no longer do your hobbies, then say you don’t have any. If you write that you fish, golf, bowl, and love to water ski, then the SSA is going to believe that your back pain isn’t what is keeping you from working. In other words, if you play sports, you can probably work.
Also, you will fill out forms about your past work. On those forms you state how much you had to lift at work. You also tell them how much you stood or sat during a work day at your past jobs.
Your answers on these forms are often some of the most important statements you make. If you state on your Work History form that you lifted nothing on the job, then that is what the SSA assumes is correct. Frankly, there are no jobs where you lift “nothing.” But for some reason, many people write that down as an answer. Even desk jobs require some lifting. You might, for example, lift files, boxes of paper, books, or supplies.
Think about it. Failing to tell the SSA about the lifting you had to do at your past jobs, makes it easier for them to return you to your past jobs. If you didn’t have to lift anything, then your back pain wouldn’t stop you from returning to your old job. In other words, you are making it easier for them to deny your case.
SSA’S DOCTOR CAN DOCUMENT YOUR SCOLIOSIS
When you are at the appeal levels of your case, the SSA may decide to schedule you for a physical exam with one of their doctors. You need to go to the exam. However, you do not have to pay for the exam. So, you will not have to pay to see the medical doctor who will examine your scoliosis. Additionally, you will not be charged a copay any other fee at the exam. The SSA is paying for you to visit one of their doctors.
However, if you don’t go to the exam, the SSA will deny your case for failure to cooperate. You don’t want that to happen. Use the exam to tell the doctor how the back pain is making it impossible for you to work.
The SSA will send you a written notice in the mail about your exam. It will have the name of the doctor, the address you need to go to, and the date and time of the exam.
If you cannot attend the exam, you must call the SSA and inform them you have a conflict. Usually, they will give you a new appointment time so that you can attend. Whatever you do, do not miss the exam. They will not give you a new exam time if you miss it without explanation.
WHAT WILL THE DOCTOR SAY ABOUT YOUR SCOLIOSIS?
If you have a back condition like scoliosis, SSA’s doctor will be watching how you walk into the office. Also, they will watch you in the waiting room to see if you have pain behavior. The doctor will discuss how you move, bend, sit, stand, and walk. They will write down if you are able to get onto the exam table. The doctor will also write down your complaints. Then, the doctor will talk to you about your symptoms during the exam.
The SSA pays the doctor who is doing your exam. However, the doctor at the exam is not your personal doctor. Try to remember that the doctor is not on your side. You should not assume they are in support of you winning benefits. However, if you have scoliosis, then ask them to measure the curve in your spine.
BRING COPIES OF YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS TO THE EXAM
If you are sent to an exam for your physical condition, you need to bring copies of your medical tests and records with you. Find out more here about how to obtain a copy of your medical records.
For example, if you have an MRI, X-ray, CT scan, or surgery reports, bring it with you to the exam. For example, if you have an X-ray that shows the degree of the curve in your spine, bring it to show to the doctor. Give a copy of your records to the doctor. The reports provide medical evidence of your scoliosis and the degree of the curve in your spine.
Your medical records should contain the opinion of your treating doctor about why you cannot work. This opinion is good for the SSA’s doctor to see. Your doctor can comment on the degree of the spinal curve in your spine. Also, your doctor can comment on the amount of pain you are in during work hours. For example, your doctor might know if you lost your job because you couldn’t sit or stand long enough at work to do your job. Learn more about the importance of medical records in your SSDI claim.
Once you have gone to the exam, the doctor hired by the SSA will write a report. Then the doctor will submit their report to the SSA. Hopefully, the report will document the problems your medical condition causes in your ability to sit, stand, walk, climb stairs, etc.. Additionally, the report will state whether your scoliosis symptoms prevent you from working.
OUR EXPERT ATTORNEYS & LEGAL STAFF
If you need help winning your scoliosis benefits, you have found the right law firm. You can learn more about the attorneys at our law firm on our About Us page.
For example, you may want to know that Dianna Cannon has been helping her clients win Social Security cases for over thirty years. Additionally, Brett Bunkall and Andria Summers have also won thousands of SSDI and SSI cases.
In the past 30 years, we have won over 20,000 SSDI and SSI cases for our clients. Our experts can help you file for SSI benefits using the SSA’s website. However, we will need your help to apply for SSI benefits. Why? Because only you know your personal financial information. SSI benefits require you to have minimal assets and monthly income.
Likewise, if you need an appeal, we can help you do that too. There are also many forms that will need to be filled out. Don’t worry. If you have questions about these forms, we will answer them. You can learn more about SSA’s appeal forms. Call us today for help winning your SSD benefits.
WHAT OUR LAW FIRM DOES FOR YOU
You do not have to obtain SSD benefits on your own. We can help file your SSD application. Also, we can help you through each of the appeal stages during the Social Security process.
When you leave that up to us, you can focus on your health. Our attorneys and staff can:
- Help you file your application for SSD and SSI benefits
- File an appeal if you receive an initial denial from DDS
- Collect your medical records
- Help you confirm your SSA Doctor Exam
- Request a Hearing with an Administrative Law Judge
- Prepare you to testify at your ALJ hearing
- Represent you at your hearing
- Question the expert witnesses
- Read more about job experts
- Learn more about medical expert testimony
- Request review of an SSA decision with the Appeals Council
- Request review of an Appeals Council denial in Federal Court
If you file your SSD application online at Social Security’s website, then you have 6 months to complete the application. It is best to complete the application quickly. You don’t want to run out the 6 month time limit.
WHAT DOES IT COST TO HIRE OUR LAW FIRM?
Another important factor to consider is what it costs to hire an attorney. At our law firm, you do not pay an attorney fee until we win your case. The attorney fee comes out of your back benefit. If we do not win your SSD benefits, then there is no back benefit. Therefore, you will not owe an attorney fee.
How much is the attorney fee? It is 25% of your back benefit. But, the fee is capped at $7200. You do not pay more than the cap of $7200. If you win, you will pay either 25% of the back benefit or the $7200 cap. You pay whatever is the lesser amount. For example, if your back benefit is $100,000, our attorney fee would be $7200, not $25,000. Or, if your benefit is $10,000, then you would pay 25% of the back benefit. That would be $2500.
If there are costs in your case, then you pay those costs. However, the costs are minimal. For example, you must pay for a copy of your medical records. The medical record cost is whatever your doctor charges for them. You owe costs whether we win or lose your case. But, to hire most lawyers, you have to pay attorney fees upfront. That doesn’t happen when you hire our law firm to help you win SSD and SSI benefits for scoliosis.
WHAT WILL IT COST YOU IF YOU DON’T HIRE THE RIGHT LAWYER?
What will it cost you if you don’t hire a lawyer with the legal experience to win your benefits? For example, if you win benefits at 50 years old, then you will be paid for the next 17 years. You may also win two of years of past due benefits. On the line, if you are 50 years old, is 19 years of SSD payments.
Nineteen years is is 228 months. At $1200 a month (which is a lower than average monthly benefit amount), that is $273,600. Additionally, you will get a higher benefit after the age of 67. Let’s say the average higher retirement benefit is $300 a month and you live to be 90 years old. That is another $82,800.
It costs 25% of your back benefit OR $7200 from your back benefit to pay your attorney. You pay us whatever is less and only if you win. If you win your case, then your attorney has just won you $356,400, plus early Medicare benefits. You attorney will be paid $7200 and you will be paid $349,200.
All attorneys charge the same fee. So, you can go it alone and not hire an attorney, but chances are you will lose $356,400. Or, you can hire an attorney with over 30 years of experience. If you win benefits, then you will pay $7200. However, you will also win $349,200. The choice is yours. But, we hope you can see that the cost of a lawyer with over 30 years of legal experience is worth it.
HIRE US TO HELP YOU WIN YOUR SCOLIOSIS BENEFITS
June is scoliosis awareness month. At our law firm, we want to make people more aware of this severe medical condition. If you have a spinal condition that keeps you from working, then we can help you win benefits. Remember, there are two types of benefits: SSDI benefits and SSI benefits. When you file an application, you are filing for both types of Social Security benefits.
Here are some tips. When you file your online application for benefits, the SSA may send you a written summary of your online application. If you receive the written summary in the mail, then you need to sign it and send it back to the SSA. The SSA gives you an envelope to send it back. Do it quickly.
Additionally, once you receive a denial from the SSA, you only have 60 days to file an appeal. You should appeal every negative decision the SSA makes. However, you must not fail to meet the time limits set by the SSA. Our advice is simple. Appeal early. Appeal often. Never give up.
As Social Security experts, our attorneys will properly present your case to the SSA. Contact us today. Take advantage of our free review of your case. We can often give you information that will help you win benefits. If you call, then we can answer your questions. Remember, we are experts in SSI and SSD benefits. We will do our best to win your benefits for scoliosis. Call today. Put our legal experience to work for you.