Spinal Cord Injury and Social Security Disability

Spinal cord injuries are the result of trauma to the nerves, bones, and tissue around the spine. This damage is usually the result of an accident—such as a fall or motor vehicle accident—rather than a disease. Because there are so many different possible causes of spinal cord injuries, symptoms vary greatly. Most spinal cord injuries, however, lead to some loss of function.

The specific symptoms will depend on where the spine is injured, though the most common are either pain or numbness. Spinal cord injuries can also lead to problems in other parts of the body. For instance, an injury to the middle of the spine can result in any number of areas below it to also lose function.

If the spine is only partially injured—meaning some areas below the injury still function—the injury is referred to as 'incomplete.' A 'complete' spinal cord injury results in complete loss of function below the injury.

Spinal cord injuries can cause:

  • Uncontrollable muscle contraction OR atrophy of the muscles
  • Incontinence
  • Paralysis
  • Pain
  • Breathing trouble
  • Numbness in limbs or distant parts of the body
  • Inability to regulate basic body functions: heart rate, sweating blood pressure, etc.

X-rays and MRIs are used when a trauma patient is being evaluated for spinal cord injuries. These imaging systems can provide more insight into the extent of the damage. In many cases, surgery is needed to stabilize or repair the spinal cord. Spinal cord injuries must be treated as soon as they happen.

First, a medical professional will attempt to stabilize the body by placing the spine in a neutral position—no twists or rotations—performing any necessary resuscitation, and immobilizing the body. At this point, steroid administration and surgeries can take place.

A person with a spinal cord injury will require much rest during rehabilitation, but must also undergo occupational and physical therapy in order to correct or adjust to any atrophies and paralysis. In severe spinal cord injuries, the individual may require a wheelchair and other types of assistance for the rest of their life.

Filing for Social Security Disability with a Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries are listed in the blue book under section 1.04—Disorders of the Spine. To qualify for disability benefits under this listing, you will have to provide medical evidence of damage to the spinal cord. You will also need to prove that your injury has caused nerve root compression resulting in pain, weakness, and an inability to ambulate effectively. This must be demonstrated through medical images, statements from a doctor, and a record of surgeries and other treatments.

If you are unable to qualify through this listing, but are paralyzed, you may qualify under blue book listing 11.00—Neurological Disorders.

If you do not meet the requirements of any blue book listing, you may be eligible to qualify under something known as a medical vocational allowance. This means that the SSA will evaluate your claim and—based on your age, skills, and remaining functional capacity—determine whether or not you are capable of doing any work.

Those with spinal cord injuries may have trouble working because of their wheelchair or incontinence, or because of an overall decrease in body fitness that could keep them from performing even a sedentary job. The Social Security Administration takes all kinds of circumstances into consideration when making its decision. Regardless of how you qualify, you will only receive disability benefits if you can prove that you are unable to work as a result of the spinal cord injury.

Your Spinal Cord Injury Disability Case

Since a diagnosis of your injury is not a guarantee you will receive benefits, you will need to be highly organized and thorough when presenting your case to Disability Determination Services. Consider hiring a Social Security Disability attorney to help you with the application. They will know which information you will need and how to acquire it.

These attorneys are also very experienced in presenting this information to Disability Determination Services and will help you do so effectively. Many attorneys even offer free consultations before you hire them. If you would like to receive a free legal evaluation, fill out the form on this page.

Additional Resources

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