Herniated Disc - Condition and Symptoms
The vertebrae of the spine are separated by soft, elastic cushions called spinal discs that gradually lose their flexibility as a person ages. A Herniated Disc (also called a ruptured disc or, erroneously, a “slipped disc”) occurs when the cushioning material of the disc has ruptured or been pushed out of its position between two vertebrae, allowing the nerves close to the spinal discs to be irritated, pinched, or compressed. A disc can be ruptured suddenly, as the result of a fall or an accident, or it can occur gradually with repeated stresses to the spine. A Herniated Disc can cause back pain, leg pain, or weakness in the legs. It is often found in conjunction with spinal stenosis, which is a condition where the spinal canal and the openings in the vertebrae through which the nerves pass have narrowed. A Herniated Disc will narrow the opening even further, leading to increased irritation of the nerves.
A physical exam in which your sensations, reflexes, and muscle strength are tested can reveal the existence of a Herniated Disc. If your doctor suspects that you have a Herniated Disc, he or she will most likely order an MRI, CT scan, and/or x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. Most often, your physician can make the diagnosis of a Herniated Disc by physical examination. By testing sensation, muscle strength, and reflexes, your physician can often establish the presence of a Herniated Disc.
The compressed nerves that result from a Herniated Disc may cause shooting pains down a person’s arms or legs, depending on the location of the Herniated Disc. Tingling sensations, “pins and needles,” and numbness are also common symptoms. Muscle weakness and poor reflexes are other symptoms. Bowel and bladder problems can be a sign of cauda equine syndrome, a type of spinal cord injury causing damage to root nerves. This condition can be a result of a Herniated Disc, and is very serious.
Treatment for a Herniated Disc ranges from resting and avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms to surgery. Treatment options include the application of ice and heat to relax muscles around the disc, physical therapy to strengthen spinal muscles and decreasing the pull on an affected area, anti-inflammatory medication to relieve pressure caused by swollen tissues, steroids (oral or by injection), narcotic pain relievers, and muscle relaxants to treat spasms that often accompany Herniated Discs. Surgery is recommended if none of the above treatments is successful in relieving the pain caused by a Herniated Disc. The surgeon removes the disc and opens up space around the affected nerves in an attempt to relieve pain.
Filing for Social Security Disability with a Diagnosis of Herniated Disc
The Social Security Administration considers Herniated Discs a Disorder of the Spine under Section 1.04 of the Blue Book. The Blue Book calls a Herniated Disc a “herniated nucleus pulposus,” and in order for you to qualify for disability benefits, requires that your medical records diagnose your condition and show that it is severe enough to result in physical and occupational limitations because of “distortion of the bony and ligamentous architecture of the spine and associated impingement on nerve roots.” Evidence of nerve root compression should be highlighted by symptoms like pain, limited range of motion of the spine, muscle weakness, and sensory or reflex loss. It is recommended that you also show the types of treatment you have undergone, what affect the treatment(s) have had on your condition, and how you respond to treatment.
In order to get disability benefits, your medical records will have to show that your Herniated Disc(s) cause pain that is so severe you are unable to hold gainful employment. The SSA is interested only in how your condition prevents you from working, so it is important to emphasize the limitations your condition imposes on you.
Your Herniated Disc Disability Case
If you are disabled by one or more Herniated Discs that cause such severe pain or limits your activity to such an extent that the condition prevents you from working, you may well be entitled to Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits. Although total disability based on a diagnosis of Herniated Disc can be difficult to prove compared to other disabling conditions, working closely with medical professionals and a qualified Social Security disability attorney or advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation to support your disability claim in front of the Disability Determination Services (DDS) can help to ensure that your Herniated Disc disability case will have the highest possible chance of success.