Did you know that over sixty million adults in the United States live with at least one disability?

Disability can be an acquired condition, meaning anyone can become disabled due to injury or illness at any point in their life. For some, the degree of disability means that they may be unable to work permanently or for a prolonged period. If this is the case, the individual may be eligible for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits.

If you’ve never applied for benefits before, you may be wondering whether you qualify. For the many people who live with chronic pain on a daily basis, this question is especially relevant: Is chronic pain considered a qualifying disability?

Before you fill out any paperwork, keep reading to learn more about disability benefits eligibility requirements and what information you will need to know to begin the application process.

What Is Chronic Pain?

A basic definition of chronic pain is pain that lasts for at least three months. It might have a specific cause, like an injury. The cause may also be more general, like inflammation or arthritis.

When chronic pain is caused by an injury, it’s likely that the pain will be localized to the part of the body that was injured. What makes chronic pain different from acute pain is that the sensation lingers in that part of the body far longer than should be expected. Months or years after an injury, a person may still feel the pain from the original incident.

Chronic pain caused by inflammation, nerves damaged by a stroke, or an autoimmune disease may be felt throughout the body. The pain may be constantly present. Or it may flare up from time to time based on physical activity, weather conditions, or other factors.

Persistent pain can impact your ability to work and perform normal day-to-day functions. Physical therapy and other forms of rehabilitation may be needed to address and manage the pain.

And that’s just the physical aspect of recovery. Many people experiencing chronic pain need to go through an emotional recovery process as well as a physical one.

What Is a Disability?

The legal definition of a disability is less straightforward than the definition of chronic pain. To qualify to receive disability benefits, an applicant has to prove they have a major physical or psychological impairment. SSI eligibility requires limited income and resources. SSDI eligibility requires inability to work due to a condition expected to last at least one year. The SSA provides a screening tool to help you determine which type of benefits (some people will receive both) you may qualify for.

Additionally, your impairment must keep you from performing activities necessary for you to work. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides a list of impairments, known to many as the Blue Book, that are considered severe enough to keep someone from working. A person with a listed condition is likely to qualify for benefits.

Is Chronic Pain Considered a Disability?

Unfortunately, as the requirements highlighted above suggest, it is not likely that chronic pain alone will qualify an individual to receive disability benefits. Chronic pain is not listed as a qualifying impairment in the Blue Book. Also, the medical documentation for chronic pain alone is usually not sufficient for disability benefits to be approved.

How to Receive Social Security Benefits for Chronic Pain

Applicants with chronic pain may have a diagnosed medical condition or documented injury such as a neurological disorder, inflammatory or autoimmune disease, arthritis, or somatoform disorders. Listing the underlying condition on an application may help the applicant qualify for benefits.

No matter what the underlying cause for chronic pain, thorough documentation from your medical team must demonstrate that the condition is causing significant impairment. Any medical records and lab and tests results that you can provide with your application will strengthen your case.

If possible, get a second opinion from another medical care provider that backs up your primary physician’s findings. This will also augment the credibility of your application.

The RFC Assessment

If you do not have one of the conditions listed in the Blue Book, you can attempt to qualify for benefits through a completed RFC (residual functional capacity) assessment.

The physical assessment will involve questions to you and your doctor about your mobility, strength, vision, hearing and other capability. The SSA will also assess how effectively you work with people, follow instructions, keep a schedule, maintain focus, make decisions and perform other psychological, intellectual or behavioral tasks.

Once the SSA determines your physical and mental capacity, they’ll compare this to the demands of your most recent job. If you’re still able to meet the demands of your previous work, you probably won’t qualify for benefits. If you’re unable to continue your most recent work or perform other work, approval for benefits is possible.

If chronic pain seriously contributes to functional limitations in your day-to-day life, share this in your RFC assessment. Document how long it takes you to finish tasks, how often you need to rest, and other relevant information. The more severe the degree of impairment you experience and can demonstrate, the more likely you are to receive benefits.

Start Working Toward Rehabilitation Today

The answer to the question, “Is chronic pain considered a disability?” is neither clear-cut nor easy. Yet, this information can provide you with a baseline of knowledge to determine whether you should apply for SSA disability benefits.

It’s not easy to live with chronic pain. If it’s impacting your ability to work and live your life, you should seek the benefits you deserve to help you take care of your physical and mental health.

Are you looking for help to recover from your injury or manage your chronic pain? Our Tri-Dimensional Rehabilitation Program may be exactly what you need to get on the path to recovery.


Categories: Chronic Pain