SCOLIOSIS & PROVING DISABILITY
WHAT IS SCOLIOSIS?
Scoliosis is the abnormal curvature of the spine. If the curvature is severe it can cause pain and limitations. The severity of your scoliosis depends upon the amount of your spinal curvature. In order to have the diagnosis of scoliosis, your spine must curve abnormally 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. 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 hereditary or occur because of trauma. Also, the condition can occur as a result of another disease.
FOUR TYPES OF SCOLIOSIS
Doctors diagnose scoliosis with different forms due to the cause of the condition. For example, your scoliosis may be due to your 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 correct the spinal curvature. 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 the abnormal spinal twisting. These changes can help your stand up straighter and reduce the rib hump in your back.
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 here. 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 degenerative changes to 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.
Depending on the degree of spinal curvature, you may experience pain. Pain related to degenerative scoliosis can range from a dull backache 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 it when I fell. 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 result in scoliosis.
SCOLIOSIS CAN BE A DISABILITY THAT PREVENTS YOU FROM WORKING
The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that if your scoliosis symptoms are severe, you may not be able to work a full time job. If you’re unable to work full time for at least 12 months due to your scoliosis, then it is possible for you to qualify for 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 benefits is Supplemental Security Income (SSI).This benefit acts as a supplement to SSD benefits. Additionally, it is for individuals who have never worked or who have earned low wages.
Spinal disorders, like scoliosis, are one of the main reasons that people file for disability benefits. The SSA awards benefits to the claimants whose scoliosis symptoms prevent them from working and doing everyday activities of daily living.
MEDICAL EVIDENCE THAT PROVES DISABILITY FOR SCOLIOSIS
When you apply for SSDI and SSI benefits, the SSA will first look to your medical records to determine if your scoliosis is a disabling impairment. Medical records are crucial to obtaining disability benefits. Find out more about the importance to medical records in your disability case.
The SSA obtains your medical records. Next, a claims worker at Disability Determination Services (DDS) reviews your records. The claims examiner will be looking for objective medical evidence. The medical evidence must document your scoliosis. For example, the SSA will look for 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, numbness, sciatica, muscle weakness, and reduced range of motion from your scoliosis
- a record of your medications for pain and any side effects you may be experiencing from your medications
- the medical opinion of specialist in scoliosis, like an orthopedic surgeon or neurologist
- physical therapy records that help show your attempts to help your pain and improve your spinal restrictions
- nerve conduction studies showing the nerve compression
- records which show you use a back brace, cane, walker, or wheelchair
- reports of any back operation for scoliosis or other degenerative spinal condition.
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.
Additionally, if you cannot afford treatment, you can request that SSA send you to one of their doctors. This is a consultative examination. You can visit one of SSA’s doctors for free. They will write a report about your scoliosis. Further information about consultative examinations can be found on on this website. Also, more information is written below on this blog.
DOES SCOLIOSIS MEET SSA’S LISTING FOR A DISABILITY?
In order for the SSA to find that your scoliosis is disabling, your spinal condition has to first 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 scoliosis must last or be expected to last at least one year. Or, it must be expected to result in death.
Additionally, you may be found disabled by meeting or equalling a listing under SSA’s listing of disabilities. Sometimes, SSA’s list of disabilities is called the “Blue Book.” SSA’s listing, unfortunately, does not contain a specific listing for scoliosis.
Nevertheless, the SSA will evaluate your scoliosis under the musculoskeletal listing 1.15. See the Musculoskeletal Listings under SSA’s description of Disorders of the Spine. If you are claiming benefits for childhood scoliosis, then the SSA will evaluate the child’s condition under listing 101.15.
Likewise, if a curvature of the child’s skeletal spine is under continuing surgical management (see 101.00P1), the SSA will evaluate it under listing 101.21. Because scoliosis does not meet a listing, the SSA looks at the condition under equalling the listing. See the Code of Federal Regulations under 20 C.F.R. § 416.926 for an explanation of what “equalling the listing” means.
DOES YOUR SCOLIOSIS EQUAL LISTING 1.15 ?
The following paragraphs outline listing 1.15, which the SSA uses to evaluate whether or not your scoliosis “equals” a listing. However, other listings can also be used to evaluate scoliosis. For example, the SSA can find you disabled 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(s) (see 1.00F), documented by A, B, C, and D:
2. Sign(s) of nerve root irritation, tension, or compression, consistent with compromise of the affected nerve root (see 1.00F2)
C. Findings on imaging (see 1.00C3) consistent with compromise of a nerve root(s) in the cervical or lumbosacral spine.
D. Impairment-related physical limitation of musculoskeletal functioning that has lasted, or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at least 12 months, and medical records of at least one of the following:
1. A documented medical need (see 1.00C6) for a walker, bilateral canes, or bilateral crutches (see 1.00C6d) or a wheeled and seated mobility device involving the use of both hands (see 1.00C6e(i)); or
2. An inability to use one upper extremity to independently initiate, sustain, and complete work-related activities involving fine and gross movements (see 1.00E4), and a documented medical need (see 1.00C6a) for a one-handed, hand-held assistive device (see 1.00C6d) that requires the use of the other upper extremity or a wheeled and seated mobility device involving the use of one hand (see 1.00C6e(ii)); or
3. An inability to use both upper extremities to the extent that neither can be used to independently initiate, sustain, and complete work-related activities involving fine and gross movements (see 1.00E4).
SCOLIOSIS AND YOUR RESIDUAL FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY
Even if Social Security thinks that your scoliosis doesn’t meet or equal one of the listings, they can still find that you can win benefits. But, you must prove you cannot work due to your limitations. The way the SSA determines if your scoliosis prevents you from working is by assessing your residual functional capacity (RFC).
Your RFC is the medical assessment of what you can physically and mentally do in a work setting. It is the definition of your functional limitations after taking into account all of your conditions.
The RFC includes both your physical and mental limits. The SSA will define your ability to sit, stand, walk, and lift, taking into consideration your scoliosis symptoms. 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 here.
WHAT EVIDENCE PROVES YOUR RFC?
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 the SSA consultative examiners. See § 416.946.
The SSA will also consider descriptions and observations about your limits from you, your family, neighbors and friends. 20 C.F.R. § 416.929. For example, your family or friends could write a statement about the intensity and effects of your physical symptoms. Find out more here about RFC and how it combines with age to eliminate work. Also, find out more about SSA’s Medical Vocational Guidelines here.
REQUEST A CONSULTATIVE EXAM TO DOCUMENT YOUR SCOLIOSIS
When you are at the initial level or the reconsideration level of your case, the SSA may decide to schedule you for a consultative examination with one of their doctors. You need to go to the exam.
You do not have to pay for the Consultative Examination. So, you will not have to pay to see the medical doctor who looks at your scoliosis. You will also not have to pay a copay or any money at the exam.
However, if you don’t go to the exam, the SSA will automatically deny your case. You don’t want that to happen. Use the exam to tell the doctor how your scoliosis is making it impossible for you to do full time work.
The SSA will send you a written notice in the mail about your consultative 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 that you have a conflict. Usually, they will reschedule the 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 impairment like scoliosis, the consultative examiner 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 and if he or she can document those symptoms on examination.
The SSA pays the doctor who is doing your exam. The doctor at the exam is not your doctor. The doctor is not on your side. You should not assume they are in support of you winning benefits. However, if you have scoliosis, ask them to measure the curvature 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 operative report, bring it with you to the exam. Give a copy of your records to the doctor. The reports provide medical evidence of your scoliosis. Your medical records contain the medical opinion of your treating doctor about your disability. This opinion is good for the doctor to see.
Once you have gone to the exam, the doctor will write a report. Then the doctor will submit their report to the SSA. Hopefully, the report will document the problems your scoliosis causes in your ability to sit, stand, walk, climb stairs, etc.. Additionally, the report will state whether or not your scoliosis prevents you from working.
CANNON DISABILITY LAW’S ATTORNEYS
If you need help with your benefits claim for scoliosis, you have found the right law firm. You can learn more about the representatives at Cannon Disability Law on our About Us page.
For example, you may want to know that Dianna Cannon loves practicing Social Security. She has been a lawyer for thirty years. Brett Bunkall and Andria Summers have also won thousands of disability cases.
In the past 30 years, we have won over 20,000 SSDI and SSI cases for our clients. Our specialists can help you apply for SSI disability 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 here. Call us today for help with your scoliosis disability case.
WHAT DOES CANNON DISABILITY DO FOR YOUR DISABILITY CASE?
You do not have to obtain benefits for scoliosis on your own. Cannon Disability Law can help file your disability application. Also, we can help you through each of the appeal stages of 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
- Request reconsideration if you receive an initial denial from Disability Determination Services
- Collect your medical records
- Help you confirm your attendance at a Consultative Examination
- Request a Hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
- Prepare you to be a good witness at your Social Security hearing
- Represent you at your hearing and question the vocational and medical witnesses. Read more about vocational experts here. Learn more about medical expert testimony here.
- Request review of an decision with the Appeals Council
- Request review of an Appeals Council denial in Federal Court
If you file your application for disability benefits 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.
HIRE CANNON DISABILITY TO HELP YOU WIN YOUR SCOLIOSIS BENEFITS
June is scoliosis awareness month. At Cannon Disability Law, we want to bring higher awareness to scoliosis as a disability. If you have scoliosis that prevents you from working, we can help you win benefits.
Here are some tips. When you file your online application for scoliosis, the SSA may send you a written summary of your online application. If you receive the written summary, then you need to sign it and send it back to the SSA in the envelop they provide.
Additionally, once you receive a denial from the SSA, you only have 60 days to file an appeal. You should appeal every unfavorable 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, the attorneys at Cannon Disability Law will properly present your case to the SSA. Contact us today. Take advantage of our free consultation. 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.