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Can I Continue Working with a Herniated Disc?

A herniated disc occurs when the soft, cushiony tissue that usually resides between two spinal vertebras gets pushed out of place. Were it not for the close proximity of spinal nerves near the vertebra and spinal discs, a misplaced disc wouldn’t be as big a problem; however, because nerves are so easily affected by a herniated disc, the condition can be very painful and can cause a number of neurological and other symptoms.

Many who suffer a herniated disc exhibit the common symptoms of muscle weakness, radiating pain, numbness and tingling in the extremities, and bowel issues, among others. The location of the herniated disc in the spinal column typically determines the area of the body in which most symptoms present. For instance, a herniated disc in the lumbar spine causes pain, numbness and weakness in the legs and feet, while a cervical spine disc herniation will result in the same issues with the arms and hands.

The severity of symptoms can vary widely among those affected by the condition. For this reason, you may or may not be able to continue working while suffering from a herniated disc. Ultimately, your individual symptoms, the course of required treatment, and the type of work duties you’re required to perform in your position will determine if you’re able to maintain active employment with a herniated disc.

Disc Herniation and Physical Capacity

The location and severity of your disc herniation determines what symptoms you suffer, and the symptoms you have in turn affect what you’re able to do on a daily basis. For instance, a lumbar disc herniation may cause you to be unsteady on your feet, unable to walk or stand for any length of time, or incapable of lifting or carrying anything over a certain weight.

If you work a very physical job in which you frequently walk long distances, operate equipment, or lift, carry, push or pull objects, then the likelihood you’ll be able to continue to work with a herniated disc decreases significantly. Working while suffering from a herniated disc can cause your condition to get worse. It can also result in your physical limitations worsening as well.

With a sedentary or light work job, a cervical disc herniation may cause more limitations on your ability to perform essential job duties. Weakness, numbness, and pain in the arms and hands, for instance, may prevent you from typing or completing other office job responsibilities. A herniated disc may or may not cause you significant issues. The symptoms you exhibit and the severity and frequency of those symptoms will determine if you’re still able to perform your usual job functions even with the limitations the condition imposes.

Disc Herniation and Mental Capacity

While a herniated disc doesn’t typically affect an individual’s mental capacity, the level of pain you suffer as well as the medications or other treatments required for managing your condition impact your ability to perform essential job functions. If, for instance, you take a medication that affects your memory, concentration, or ability to comprehend new information, you may be unable to do your usual work. This is particularly true for position in which attention to detail, looking for errors or discrepancies, or other similar mentally taxing job duties are required.

Applying for Disability with a Herniated Disc

When you apply for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits with a herniated disc, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will first review your medical records and compare them to listed conditions in the Blue Book, which is the manual utilized by Disability Determination Services (DDS) staff that contains descriptions of the ailments and diseases that are known to potentially result in disability.

The applicable section of the Blue Book for herniation of a spinal disc is the “Musculoskeletal System” section, specifically, the subsection on “Disorders of the Spine”. There is no unique listing for a herniated disc and therefore the DDS staff must evaluate applications for SSD benefits by making a determination on each individual case and the applicant’s residual functional capacity (RFC). RFC is an establishment of the applicant’s capabilities, both mental and physical.

If your herniated disc imposes severe physical limitations, or the pain or medical treatments that accompany your condition result in mental capacity decline, then your medical documentation must clearly indicate this in order for you to be found eligible for SSD benefits.

If you would like to speak with an SSD attorney or advocate for a free evaluation to see if you qualify for disability, fill out the form on this site.