Degenerative Disc Disease and Disability Insurance: A Claimant’s Guide
Chronic back pain can make it difficult to do everyday things like walking, lifting, or even focusing on a task. If you’re unable to work because of degenerative disc disease and your doctor supports your decision, you may be eligible for short-term or long-term disability insurance benefits.
Unfortunately, back-related disability claims are often disputed by the insurance company. Confusion about the severity of your symptoms, conflicting medical opinions, and other factors can all affect your ability to obtain benefits. To learn more about degenerative disc disease and disability claims, keep reading.
What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Over time, your joints, including those in your spine, start to wear out. This is not caused by a disease or illness, but by the aging process, genetics, trauma, and physical activities like lifting, bending, twisting, pushing, and pulling. These factors can make parts of your spine more fragile and less effective, leading to chronic pain and functional limitations.
Degenerative disc disease can cause a variety of symptoms:
- Pain in your back, neck, arms, and legs
- Pain that worsens when you’re sitting, standing, lifting, bending, or twisting
- Numbness and tingling
- Muscle spasms or tension
- Muscle weakness
- Instability or a feeling that your back “gives out”
- Bowel and bladder incontinence
- Sleep disruption
Chronic back pain can also make it difficult to concentrate or focus.
Typically, doctors diagnose degenerative disc disease by performing clinical examinations and reviewing imaging studies such as MRIs, x-rays, and CT scans. If your doctor suspects that you are suffering from nerve damage, you may also undergo nerve conduction studies or EMGs.
Your Spine’s Complex Anatomy
To understand chronic back pain and how it relates to disability benefits, you first need to understand the anatomy of the spine. Your spine does more than keep you upright. The back’s complex anatomy includes nerves, shock absorbers, bones, blood vessels, and other structures. Below are some parts of the spine you should be familiar with, especially if you have been suffering from back pain.
- Vertebral bodies: These bones protect the spinal cord and help us stand upright.
- Discs: Discs are doughnut-shaped, fibrous structures that absorb shocks and help your spine move smoothly.
- Spinal cord: Your nervous system’s highway, this bundle of nerves sends messages from your brain to the rest of your body.
- Nerves and nerve roots: Bundles of nerve fibers, or axons, branch off the spinal cord towards specific body parts.
- Soft tissues: Muscles, ligaments, and tendons connect to the back in various ways.
All of these parts must work together, and a single issue within the system can lead to serious symptoms and dysfunction.
For example, suppose you herniate or rupture a disc. Because the spaces within and around the spine are tiny, the rupture may press on your nerve roots or your spinal cord. Similarly, bone spurs and arthritis can cause swelling that irritates your nerves. Either of these conditions can result in radiating back pain, muscle weakness, and other serious symptoms.
What Are My Treatment Options for Degenerative Disc Disease?
Your treatment options depend on the severity of your degenerative disc disease. Many doctors will initially recommend noninvasive treatment options like physical therapy and medications. However, they may also recommend epidural steroid injections, gentle traction, acupuncture, TENS units, and other treatments.
Typically, surgery is your last option. In fact, 98% of disc issues do not require surgical intervention. Depending on your imaging studies and diagnosis, you may have a variety of surgical options to address your back pain and mobility issues.
- Discectomy: Surgeons can remove part of a damaged disc, taking pressure off a nerve or nerve root.
- Decompression: Surgeries such as a laminectomy or foraminotomy involve removing part of the vertebral body to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
- Spinal fusion: Doctors attempt to stabilize the spine by permanently joining two vertebral bodies together with screws, cages, or other hardware.
- Disc replacement: A more cutting-edge option, doctors can replace your damaged disc with a prosthetic spacer during a disc replacement surgery.
All these surgeries focus on stabilizing your back and relieving pressure on your nerves and spinal cord. While spinal surgery may reduce the amount of pain shooting down your leg or arm, it rarely eliminates all of your arthritis or resolves all of your chronic back pain.
Does My Chronic Back Pain Make Me Eligible for Disability Benefits?
Not all chronic back pain is disabling. Sometimes, you can control degenerative disc disease with medications, physical therapy, and surgery. However, chronic pain and severe degenerative changes can seriously limit your physical and mental endurance. It can also take a year or more to recover from major spinal surgery, such as a fusion. In these cases, you may be eligible for disability benefits related to your back pain.
If you and your doctors believe that you cannot work due to degenerative disc disease, you may be eligible for disability insurance benefits. However, your eligibility will depend on a variety of factors, including your disability insurance plan’s terms and conditions, the severity of your limitations, and your ability to perform work within your training and qualifications.
Unfortunately, insurance companies are sometimes skeptical of chronic back claims, especially if your diagnostic studies appear stable or you have a “successful” surgery. In these cases, you’ll probably need an experienced disability insurance attorney’s assistance. An experienced attorney, armed with expert witnesses and comprehensive evidence, can help resolve your benefits dispute with the insurance company.
Bryant Legal Group: We Fight for People With Chronic Back Pain
At Bryant Legal Group, we guide people through their chronic back pain disability claims. Our team prides itself on careful analysis, comprehensive medical knowledge, and track record of success. If you’re considering a disability insurance claim due to degenerative disc disease or chronic back pain, contact us today.
Degenerative disc disease (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/degenerative-disc-disease
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.