Close Menu



A herniated disc occurs when the jelly type filling in the spinal disc breaks through the outer shell, or annulus, of the disc. When this happens, the material can press on the nerves. Thus, a herniated disc or bulging disc can pinch a nerve root and cause severe pain in your back, hips, and legs.

In some cases, a bulging or herniated disc can cause muscle weakness and reflex loss. If you have neck herniation, then it can cause your arms and hands to go numb. Likewise, a low back herniation can cause your legs to go numb and lose strength. Therefore, a severe herniated or bulging disc can keep you from working.

In any given year, doctors treat hundreds of thousands of people for herniated discs. It is one of the most common causes of back pain. Some people require surgery to remove the protruding disc material. In fact, about 10 percent of herniated disc patients end up needing surgery, according to research from Harvard Health. Surgery is usually considered a last resort and your doctor will only recommend it when conservative treatment doesn’t work.

Most people respond to conservative treatment, because a herniated or bulging disc can heal on its own. It just takes time. Your doctor may recommend that you lay down, use ice and heat on your back, and take over the counter medications. Also, your doctor may send you to physical therapy. This type of treatment can cause the inflammation and pressure on the nerve to decrease. Unfortunately, it may take up to 6 months for your pain to go away.  If  you need surgery and can’t work for over 12 months, then you should apply for SSDI and SSI benefits.


Qualifying for SSD benefits means you have a severe back pain that keeps you from working at any job in the economy. The symptoms from a herniated disc must be so severe that keep you from working for over one year. The SSA uses a five step review process to determine if they can pay you benefits. Below, you can find an explanation as to each type of benefit you can apply for:

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI):  

SSDI benefits are for those who can no longer work due to a severe medical condition. The amount of money you receive from SSDI benefits is based on the taxes you paid during your working years. To qualify for SSDI, you must have earned enough “work credits.” Learn more about work credits and SSD insurance coverage.

A work credit is an amount of taxable income. You can earn up to 4 work credits per year. The amount of work credits you will need depends on how old you are when you apply. If you haven’t earned enough work credits at the time you apply, then you will only be able to file for SSI benefits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI):  

SSI is a needs based benefit. It is for only those people with little to no income, such as children and the elderly. Anyone who makes more than a certain amount of money per month cannot receive SSI benefits. The SSA counts the income of those who live with you, such as a spouse, not just your income and assets.

If you have a spouse who earns more than $4000 a month, then that income will prevent you from getting SSI benefits. The same rule applies if you are living with a boyfriend and he is paying your bills. Also, the same rule applies if you are living with your common law wife and she is paying your bills. You cannot get SSI benefits, no matter how severe your back pain, if you do not meet the income and asset rules for SSI.


It is important to understand the difference between a herniated disc and a bulging disc. Even though both bulging and herniated discs can cause similar symptoms, it is more likely that you will need surgery for a herniated disc. The following defines the difference between the two:

  • Herniated Disc: Also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, a herniated disc occurs when the soft inner core of a spinal disc pushes through the tough outer layer. This irritates nearby nerves and causes pain, numbness, or weakness in the affected area.
  • Bulging Disc: A bulging disc is similar to a herniated disc but it is less severe. A bulging disc happens when the disc protrudes outward and presses against surrounding nerves without actually rupturing. While less severe, it can still cause you significant pain.

Both disc conditions are the result of aging, degenerative disc disease, or injury. Another cause of disc problems is simply wear and tear on the spine from natural aging. Also, both conditions can lead to debilitating symptoms that interfere with your ability to perform your daily activities and work. Below you will find an illustration of the parts of the disc in the spinal canal. One illustration shows a normal disc. The other shows what happens when there is a disc extrusion.

Illustration showing normal disc and herniated disc, slipped disc, illustration


Treatment of bulging and herniated discs might include physical therapy. It will also include medications, such as pain medications or oral steroids. Also, some doctors will recommend epidural steroid injections. Injections can relieve pressure on the disc and reduce pain. Spinal surgery can also repair some herniated discs. The various surgeries that you could have are a spinal fusion, laminectomy, or discectomy.


The easiest way to apply for SSD benefits is using your computer. You can file an application for SSD and SSI benefits by going to Social Security’s website. The SSA has updated their website and made it easy to use a computer to apply for benefits. It is also easy to complete the forms online that are needed to begin the five step Social Security review process.

If you don’t have a computer, then you can apply for SSD and SSI benefits over the phone. Once you have called the SSA, they will send you the forms that you need to complete by mail. You will need to have a current mailing address to receive the forms. Even if you get the forms in the mail, the day you call the SSA is your “protective filing date.” In other words, the day you call the SSA is the day they will state that you filed your application. This date is important because it is the day the SSA uses to figure out when you should be paid benefits.

Finally, you can apply for benefits in person at your local SSA office. This is not a great option, because the lines at the SSA offices are long. However, every city has local Social Security offices which you can visit. At your local office, they can help you complete the forms to apply for SSDI and SSI benefits. If you are going to file an application in person, then you should call ahead and ask for an appointment time.


Applying for SSD benefits can be a long and frustrating experience. However, we have some some tips that will help you throughout the review process:


Make sure that you collect all of the medical records that relate to your back condition. This includes X-rays, MRIs and CT scans. You should also collect the progress notes from your doctor. If you have had any physical therapy or physical evaluations, then include those records too. You must have medical evidence to support your claim.


Hire an SSD attorney who has experience dealing with the Social Security Administration. They can guide you through the five step Social Security review process. A lawyer can help you file your SSD application. They can also hep you gather medical evidence, file the proper appeals, and represent you in your court hearing.


The SSD application process can take a long time. Most people who file an application are denied. Learn more about the SSA denial rate. Be prepared for a long wait. Also, be prepared to follow up on a monthly basis on the status of your application. If your claim is denied, then don’t give up. You should appeal SSA’s decision.


The SSA is going to send you forms to complete. For example, they will send you a Work History Form. You need to complete it and send it back to the SSA. They will also send you a Daily Activities Form. You need to complete this too. Make sure you read our articles on how to complete the SSA forms, before you send the forms into the SSA. Finally, don’t send the SSA any of your forms without making a copy of them. If they lose your forms, then you will have to do it again. Also, you may have to complete the forms a number of times during the appeal process. So, keep a copy for yourself.


If you have a herniated disc in your spine, then you will most likely have pain. Pain is subjective. Therefore, the SSA considers all the evidence you present to document your pain symptoms. This evidence includes your prior work record. If you have a strong work history, then that is evidence which shows you would continue to work if you could. A consistent number of years working at any single job, in other words, demonstrates your credibility.

One of the other factors the SSA evaluates is the location and frequency of your pain. Is your back pain only in your low back or neck? Or, is the pain radiating to your limbs? The SSA will also look at what medical treatment you have tried to eliminate your pain. They will even consider phantom pain, as in the case of an amputation.

The SSA will want to know, for example, if have you seen a doctor who is an expert in back pain. They will also want to know if you have done everything she tells you to do to lower your pain level. Often, doctors will offer medications. Do your medications help your pain? Or, do your medications have bad side effects? Are the side effects from your medications bad enough to keep you from working?

One of the other questions that the SSA may ask is do you have “chronic pain?” Chronic pain is a symptom that must be part of the SSA’s evaluation. The SSA will also develop evidence regarding the possibility of a mental condition when your record suggests one exists. They will also look to see if the medical findings show any physical condition capable of producing the alleged pain or other symptoms.


There are three ways to qualify for SSDI and SSI benefits. First, your medical condition can meet the listing. Second, if you do not meet a listing, then you can add medical conditions together to equal the listing. Finally, you can win SSD benefits by proving you cannot work due to your symptoms. To qualify for SSD benefits, however, you must meet the SSA rules. These include:

  1. MEDICAL EVIDENCE:  You must have medical evidence that proves your condition is severe enough to keep you from working for at least 12 months. Medical evidence, including imaging studies and treatment records, are without doubt the most important thing you need to win benefits.
  2. MEETING OR EQUAL A LISTING:  The SSA has a listing of medical conditions, the “Blue Book,” which outlines the specific medical conditions that qualify for benefits. For  herniated discs, the SSA will use Listing 1.04 – Disorders of the Spine. They will review your medical records to see if you have nerve root compression, spinal arachnoiditis, or spinal stenosis that results in chronic pain that prevents work.
  3. DOCUMENT YOUR RESIDUAL FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY (RFC):  If your herniated disc does not meet a listing, then the SSA will look at your RFC. Your RFC is your ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, etc., despite your medical condition. Learn more about how to win benefits using your RFC.


To meet a listing, you must have medical records that show your herniated disc produces symptoms that affect your ability to walk, sit, and stand. You will see, if you read listing 1.15, that it is very difficult to meet a listing. The main reason for this is the listing now requires you to use a walker or canes in both hands in order to walk. Most people will only require an assistive device while they are recovering from surgery. Nevertheless, below is SSA’s listing:

1.15 Disorders of the skeletal spine resulting in compromise of a nerve roots documented by A, B, C, and D:

A. Neuro-anatomic (radicular) distribution of one or more of the following symptoms consistent with compromise of the affected nerve roots:

1. Pain; or

2. Paresthesia; or

3. Muscle fatigue.


B. Radicular distribution of neurological signs present during physical examination or on a diagnostic test and evidenced by 1, 2, and either 3 or 4:

1. Muscle weakness; and

2. Signs of nerve root irritation, tension, or compression, consistent with compromise of the affected nerve root; and

3. Sensory changes evidenced by:

a. Decreased sensation; or

b. Sensory nerve deficit (abnormal sensory nerve latency) on electrodiagnostic testing; or

4. Decreased deep tendon reflexes.


C. Findings on imaging consistent with compromise of a nerve roots 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 documentation of at least one of the following:

1. A documented medical need for a walker, bilateral canes, or bilateral crutches or a wheeled and seated mobility device involving the use of both hands; or

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

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.


Most people with herniated discs are not able to meet SSA’s listing. However, you can still win SSD benefits by proving that you are physically limited to the point that you cannot work 40 hours a week.

For example, if your doctor says you can’t lift, bend over, reach above your head, or lift anything above 10 pounds, then you might not be able to do your past job. Likewise, you may not be able to perform the duties of any job.

In order to determine your RFC, the SSA first looks to your medical evidence. That is why it is so important for the SSA to have all of your medical evidence. It is your “burden” or responsibility to provide all of your medical evidence to the SSA.

Typically, hiring a lawyer to help you do this is a wise choice. Learn more here about how to obtain your medical evidence for free.  If you do not have enough medical evidence for the SSA to make a decision, then they will arrange for you to visit a doctor that they chose. This visit to the doctor for an exam does not cost you any money.

An SSA doctor exam can be done for your mental and your physical conditions. Find out more about the SSA doctor exam.

The RFC is what is “found” at step four of the review process. While DDS determines your RFC at the lower levels of your claim. Once the case moves to the a hearing, it is the ALJ who will determine your RFC. Your RFC can help you win benefits by showing that you cannot sustain a job. Find out more about Social Security hearings.


One of the main benefits you need is Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDI). Under SSA’s rules, each severe medical condition has its own listing. To meet a listing, the SSA considers only the elements under that specific listing. If you meet the listing, then you should be paid SSD benefits. Equalling the listing, however, allows the SSA to consider the combination of all of your severe conditions, including both mental and physical conditions.

Hire our law firm. We know how to prove to the SSA that you should be paid SSD benefits. Our legal team prepares you for success. During your case, we collect your medical records. All you have to do is get treatment from your doctor. Medical records from your treating sources prove you deserve benefits. Medical records prove the case. If you don’t have a doctor, then you will need to find one. We have a list of free and low cost treatment options in your state:


We know you need SSD benefits to replace your income. Over the past 30 years, we have won over 20,000 SSDI and SSI cases. We want to win your case too. Contact us today for your free review of your case. Let us help you win SSDI and SSI benefits.

Hire our SSD law firm to give you legal advice and help you through the application process. We have won millions of dollars in ongoing and past due benefits for our clients.

If you want to win SSD benefits, then hire an attorney with the legal experience to win your case. You can hire us for no money down. This means we do not charge you any money up front to help you or for you to become our client. Then, you only pay us an attorney fee when you win benefits. If you don’t win, then you don’t pay an attorney fee. Learn more about how attorney fees work in this process.

If you want to learn more about our lawyers and staff, then read our About Us page. Dianna Cannon, for example, has been helping her clients win benefits for the past 33 years. You can also learn about Andria Summers, who has 21 experience working at our law firm. She can also help you with your Medicare advantage plan. Brett Bunkall has won hundreds of SSD cases. Call us for help if you are suffering from herniated discs and you can’t work.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
Contact Form Tab

Quick Contact Form