How To Qualify for Disability with a Herniated Disc in 2024

If your herniated disc causes you continuous, long-lasting pain, then you may be eligible for monthly financial assistance through the Social Security disability benefits program.

What Is A Herniated Disc?

When a herniated disc occurs, the nerves in the spine become crushed or pushed out from between the vertebrae. Herniated discs are actually quite common. With the help of pain medication and limited movement, most people heal fully within 6 weeks. However, some herniated discs are stubborn, and they could worsen over time. Eventually, they can become too painful for people to even take care of themselves independently.

 Herniated discs in the neck and back can qualify for benefits if your symptoms are severe enough. 

Treatment for a Herniated Disc

If you have a herniated disc, there are treatment options available for you in order to relieve the pain from the herniated disc. You should seek these treatments prior to getting surgery in order to repair the herniated disc.

The first thing that is recommended for treating a herniated disc is ice and heat therapy in order for pain relief. You can also take over-the-counter Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen in order to treat a herniated disc.

There are other medications you can take in order to help relieve the pain of a herniated disc, such as narcotic pain medications, oral steroids, and epidural injections in order to decrease the inflammation for pain relief for a herniated disc.

If medicine still does not seem to have much effect in helping to relieve the pain of a herniated disc, you may want to seek help from physical therapy. Physical therapists can help tailor stretches and exercises to help relieve pressure on the root of the herniated disc.

If medicine and physical therapy have not helped with the pain of a herniated disc, you may want to seek options for surgery. Decompression surgery may be considered as an option if you have a herniated disc.

If you have gone through all the available options and your herniated disc is still severe enough that you are unable to work, you may want to apply for Social Security disability benefits.

Long-Term Effects of a Herniated Disc in Neck

Herniated discs are serious health problems. There could be long-term effects on your body because of your herniated disc if it is not treated. You could be at risk for paralysis or long-term chronic pain if your herniated disc is untreated.

You should seek all the medical options you have in order to treat the herniated disc in your neck. If you have a herniated disc in your neck, that is a very serious health problem.

Having that in your neck may make it much more difficult to perform the normal duties of your job, especially if you are a blue-collar worker. If you can no longer work because of a herniated disc in the neck, then you may want to apply for Social Security disability benefits.

Considering applying for Social Security disability benefits but not sure how much you’ll earn per month? Our Social Security benefits calculator can help you determine how much you’ll receive from the SSA each month before you file for disability.

Is A Herniated Disc A Disability? 

A herniated disc is considered a disability if you are unable to work full-time for at least 12 months because of your disability. For the SSA to consider your herniated disc a disability, you will need to provide evidence that your herniated disc meets a Blue Book listing to qualify for disability benefits. This will demonstrate that your herniated disc is severe according to the SSA's standards and can help you with tips on qualifying for disability with a herniated disc.

A herniated disc is one of the spine conditions that qualify for disability. Disability benefits are provided to U.S. residents whose disorder is severe enough to:

  • prevent them from working or completing necessary daily tasks, such as cooking, getting around, bathing, or dressing without assistance, and   
    last for at least 12 months or expect to result in death.

Those who qualify under these conditions are considered “totally and permanently disabled,” making them eligible to receive monthly financial payments. Depending on your disorder, different symptoms are required to classify you under these terms.

The requirements for each disorder are listed in the Social Security’s “Blue Book”, which you can consult on the SSA’s website at any time. The Blue Book is the list of conditions that qualify for disability.

Blue Book Listing for Herniated Discs

Herniated discs are listed under Section 1.04 of the Blue Book: “Disorders of the Spine”, which refers to it as "herniated nucleus pulposus."

Common disorders from a herniated disc include nerve root compression ( pressure on the nerves of the spine), spinal stenosis ( a narrowing of the spine), and arachnoiditis, which is an inflammation of a membrane around the spine.

Here, the Blue Book states that applicants with a herniated disc can qualify if their disorder:

  • results in the compromise of a nerve root (the initial segment of a nerve leaving the central nervous system) or the spinal cord, such as
  • causes distributed pain, limits spinal motion, and/or causes motor loss due to the atrophying of unused muscles,
  • causes sensory or reflex loss, and
  • if involvement is in the lower back, limits motion in the legs measured with a positive straight-leg raising test (SLR test)

When you're just looking at the listing, it can be difficult to determine whether or not you will qualify. For example, understanding the Social Security Administration’s definition of a “compromised nerve root” or “limited spinal motion” can be difficult when seen out of context.

However, if you suffer from a limited range of movement, muscle weakness, or decreased reflexes, or sensory response due to a bulging disc, you may be able to use documentation of those conditions to support your disability claim.

Since the Blue Book refers to specific medical terms like these, it is best to consult with your physician to see if you qualify. They can also provide you with new or updated tests to compare your results to those listed above.

Qualifying For Disability With a Herniated Without Meeting a Blue Book Listing

In some cases, applicants who do not meet their Blue Book listing may still qualify for benefits. If you can demonstrate that your severe herniated disc prevents you from returning to any work you have been trained to do, then you may qualify for a Medical Vocational Allowance (MVA).

Generally, If you are over 50 and cannot do many of the activities that you did in your previous jobs, you may be more likely to be approved for benefits. In fact, applying when you're over 50 can be one of the best signs your disability claim will be approved

For example, say you are a woman in your mid-50s who has spent her whole life working as a waitress. After your herniated disc, you are unable to bend or lift things over 15 pounds without pain, let alone remain on your feet long enough to work a standard shift.

The RFC determines the maximum amount of work you are capable of performing with your condition. Your doctor is the one to fill out the form, and this allows the SSA to understand the specifics of your case because the information is coming straight from your doctor.

Your doctor understands the nuances of your case, as he or she was likely the one who diagnosed you or has been working with you since your diagnosis. Your doctor can attest to your actual range of movement based on examinations and observations, and this can help the SSA to understand that you are unable to perform certain tasks even though that is not immediately evident from your diagnosis.

The SSA will send you an RFC form to complete as part of your disability benefits application with a herniated disc, and it is a good idea to frame your application in terms of the information requested by the RFC so that it is clear that your condition is severely limiting your ability to work.


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Non-Medical Disability Requirments With A Herniated Disc

Disability benefits are not based upon income, rather everything is based upon need and your inability to work. However, you must have paid Social Security taxes and you must have a predetermined number of work credits to qualify for disability benefits. (There are other disability programs available for people who do not meet these qualifications)

The SSA will look at your work history to determine how many work credits you have earned. You earn four work credits each year that you make a certain amount of money.

You need 40 work credits to apply for disability benefits, and 20 of those credits must have been earned in the 10 years since you were diagnosed. The SSA will consider your age when determining how many work credits you need to apply, as younger workers who become disabled may not have 40 credits.

Preparing For the Herniated Disc Disability Application

When it comes to applying for disability benefits, you can never be too thorough. Before you start your application, be sure to have the following materials from acceptable medical sources on hand:

  • MRI/CT scans, preferably multiple ones over time.
  • Previous and current treatment lists, including medication, braces, physical therapy, or surgery (microscopic diskectomy, laminectomy, etc.)
  • Hospitalization history, especially if your herniated disc has required multiple ER visits within the last year.
  • General medical history, which can show the worsening of your condition over time.

Similarly, if you believe an MVA may be for you, be sure to get a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) test as well. These tests measure your ability to complete physical tasks such as walking, sitting, standing from a seated position, lifting, pulling, or bending.

Your doctor can help by establishing in what ways you are disabled, what the extent of your disability is, and how it limits your function by filling out the RFC.

The less you are able to do, the greater your chance of being accepted for disability benefits. RFC forms can be printed out online and given to your physician to fill out.

Appealing a Denial for Disability Benefits with a Herniated Disc

Oftentimes, initial claims can be denied disability. So if you have a herniated disc and you applied for disability, but were denied, you still may be able to get approved eventually.

You can appeal the SSA’s decision. The most common reason for being denied disability for a herniated disc is not enough medical evidence to back up your claim.

Your chances of winning your appeal after a denied claim for disability benefits with a herniated disc are improved if you seek the help from a Social Security attorney.

An attorney will know which strategies you should use in order to win your claim, what medical evidence you need prepared, and can defend your claim in front of a judge.

Herniated Disc Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Herniated Disc Disability Rating?

If you have a herniated disc, you may qualify for both Veterans Administration (VA) benefits as well as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

If you have a VA disability rating because of your herniated disc, you may be able to receive compensation for the VA based on your rating.

However, your VA rating will not affect your SSDI claim unless the VA has given you a 100% P & T, which means that you have been declared fully disabled because of your service-related herniated disc injury.

To qualify for SSDI, you will need to meet the criteria of the Blue Book listing. If your herniated disc is severe, it will meet the criteria of the Blue Book listing.

The listing indicates that to qualify for disability benefits, you must have medical evidence that shows it has compromised a nerve root, causes sensory or reflex loss and limits motion in the legs measured with a positive straight-leg test, and causes distributed pain, limits spinal motion, causing spinal stenosis and/or causes motor loss due to the atrophying of unused muscles.

If your herniated disc does not meet the criteria of the listing, you can still qualify for disability benefits by combining all your medical conditions and symptoms.

You will need to show that they affect your ability to work and earn a living and that your ability to perform routine tasks has been impeded.

You will need to gather hard medical evidence and supporting documentation to confirm the severity of your condition and how you are limited by the herniated disc

What Types of Jobs that Herniated Discs Can Make Impossible?

Herniated discs occur when the soft tissue slips through the spinal casing. The best-case scenario is that medication can treat the condition, but many cases require physical therapy and even surgery. When you are dealing with a herniated disc, the pain is often overwhelming. Even the simplest of tasks can be downright unbearable, and the pain often makes working impossible.

Your back is involved in so many ranges of motion, from standing to sitting. Even if you are able to sit all day at work instead of standing, moving around in your chair or remaining stationary at your desk can cause enough pain to make working impossible.

Physical labor is impossible for people suffering from herniated discs, both before and immediately after surgery during the recovery period. In advanced cases, sitting is also uncomfortable as well, so it is difficult to find modified jobs that allow you to work with a herniated disc.

What Happens If You Can Still Work But Had to Switch Jobs?

If you are able to work with your condition and you receive disability benefits, you can continue to work so long as you do not perform “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). In 2023, if you earn more than $1470 then you would would exceed the SGA limit.

The trial work period is an opportunity to test whether you are able to perform modified duties with your condition. If you earn more than $1470 (in 2023) for more than nine months, then you would not be eligible to continue to receive disability benefits.

This is a great way to have the safety net of disability benefits while also continuing to work at a modified level.

Can I Get Disability For Sciatica From a Herniated Disc?

If you have sciatica due to your herniated disc, it can be considered a disability by the SSA if it is severe enough that it makes it impossible for you to work.

 Often times sciatica can be chronic and can last a lifetime and if your sciatica is serious enough that you will be out of work for at least a year, then you may want to apply for Social Security disability benefits with sciatica


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Next Steps to Take

Disability attorneys or disability advocates can greatly increase your chances of getting benefits. They can take difficult cases and help you organize paperwork, update the SSA on your condition, and potentially represent you in court should you need to appeal. Better yet, their services come at no cost to you unless they help you win your case.

Take our free disability evaluation to see if you qualify for disability to get connected with an attorney or advocate who can take a case in your area.


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