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Can I Continue Working with Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a medical condition which causes a person to experience pain throughout their body, often due to stimuli which typically don’t cause pain, such as light pressure, touch, odors, sounds, and changes in temperature. Other symptoms which typically accompany fibromyalgia include:

  • Cognitive dysfunction (delirium or a confused state)
  • Severe and chronic fatigue
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Sleep Interruptions
  • Bowel problems
  • Bladder problems
  • Stiffness of the joints
  • Difficulty swallowing

In addition, fibromyalgia is often accompanied by psychiatric disorders, notably:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Stress related disorders (including PTSD)

The actual symptoms experienced vary from case to case. The defining condition is the chronic pain and sensitivity to pressure or touch. The other conditions may be present in any combination. Fibromyalgia is much more common among women than among men, with nine times as many women than men diagnosed with the condition.

There is some disagreement about whether fibromyalgia is a neurological/psychiatric condition or a musculoskeletal condition. The most widely accepted belief today is that it is primarily neurological. There is no cure for fibromyalgia, though there are a number of treatment options available which can improve the quality of life.

How Fibromyalgia Affects Your Physical Capacity for Work

Many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia can affect your ability to perform physical work. In the first place, sensitivities to light, sound, temperature changes, and odors significantly limit the types of work environments you can work in.

The pain that is associated with fibromyalgia can limit your ability to stand or sit for long periods of time. It can also affect your ability to lift, carry, push, pull, and grasp. Those who experience joint pain as a result of fibromyalgia may also have difficulty bending, lifting, walking, and performing other common actions required in physical work. The numbness and tingling which often accompanies fibromyalgia can make fine motor movements difficult, making even light physical work problematic.

Perhaps most significantly, the chronic fatigue which usually comes with fibromyalgia can make it extremely difficult to stay focused any task for an extended period of time, especially if it is combined with some of the psychiatric/neurological effects. Several of the other symptoms can also make physical work impractical for fibromyalgia sufferers.

How Fibromyalgia Affects Your Mental Capacity for Work

If your fibromyalgia is accompanied by a psychiatric disorder, or if it causes short term memory loss or difficulty concentrating, it can affect your mental capacity for work. These symptoms can make it difficult to succeed in any work environment, whether physical or sedentary.

Fibromyalgia and Applying for Social Security Disability

Fibromyalgia is not yet listed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the Blue Book. What that means for claimants is that there are no cut and dried standards for whether you can be approved for disability benefits based on fibromyalgia. Instead, you must show medical evidence which supports one of the following:

  • Your fibromyalgia symptoms are equivalent to the symptoms in a disabling condition which the SSA does recognize in the Blue Book. For fibromyalgia, this often means showing that your symptoms exceed the requirements for disability of musculoskeletal conditions which cause generalized pain and fatigue or neurological disorders which exhibit similar symptoms.
  • Your fibromyalgia symptoms make it unreasonable to expect that you could do any sort of work you have performed over the past 15 years. If you are under 60, you will also need to show that your condition is severe enough that you cannot reasonably be expected to learn any other available job for which you are qualified (i.e., have the job skills and/or education required or the ability to learn them).

Many Social Security disability claimants find it helpful to have a lawyer go over the particulars of their claim with them before presenting their claim to the SSA. Fill out the form located throughout this site for a free evaluation of your disability claim by an attorney or advocate in your area.