Nerve Root Compression and Disability Benefits

Compression of a nerve root in your spinal column can severely limit your range of motion, activities, and your ability to complete typical job functions. Maintaining full time employment with the constant pain, muscle weakness, loss of feeling, and other symptoms that arise from a spinal disorder or injury can be impossible. If you are unable to work, Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits can provide the support you need to meet your financial needs and obligations.

Medically Qualifying with Nerve Root Compression

Whether your nerve root compression is due to a spinal injury, arthritis, a disc issue, or another spinal disorder, you can potentially qualify for benefits under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) listing for Disorders of the Spine. This listing appears in the SSA’s Blue Book under Section 1.04A and requires:

  • You experience well documented pain distribution consistent with nerve root compression
  • AND

  • Loss of motor function due to muscle weakness and loss or reflex function or sensory loss

Nerve root compression must be well documented through physical examination and diagnostic testing in order to satisfy the SSA’s medical evidence requirements. Specific pieces of medical evidence the SSA must see may include:

  • Physical exam notes from your physician, describing the onset, progression, and persistence of symptoms
  • Documentation of muscle weakness or atrophy and reflex or sensory changes
  • Circulatory and neurological complications, documented through appropriate diagnostic procedures
  • MRI, CT, or x-ray results documenting the nerve root compression and its physical cause
  • Treatment procedures attempted and their results
  • Medications you have taken in the past and those you currently take
  • The effects of all medical treatments, including any side effects, if you have experienced any
  • The short and long-term prognosis for your condition, including a statement from your physician defining your period of disability

If your nerve root issue involves your lower back, medical evidence must also include results from a “straight-leg raising test,” which measures pain and other symptom responses to you raising your legs up straight when sitting or lying flat on your back.

Getting Help with Your Claim

Winning a disability claim for a back problem can be difficult, particularly if your issues do not precisely match the SSA’s listing for nerve root compression. A disability advocate or Social Security attorney may be able to assist you in building a stronger case file. You should also work closely with your doctor to ensure your medical records accurately reflect the limitations you experience in your everyday life.

When applying, you should know you might have an uphill battle ahead. Many who submit applications based on nerve root compression are initially denied benefits. If you are among them, an attorney or advocate familiar with cases like yours can also help you prepare for and testify at a disability appeal hearing.