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Syringomyelia and Social Security Disability

Syringomyelia – Condition and Symptoms

When a person develops syringomyelia, they develop a syrinx (a cyst filled with fluid) within the spinal cord. As time goes on, the syrinx enlarges, damaging the spinal cord and causing a number of symptoms, including:

  • Weakness
  • Stiffness
  • Pain

While there are various causes attributed to syringomyelia, the most common form is caused by a malformation which causes brain tissue to protrude into the spinal canal. Other common causes of syringomyelia include inflammation occurring around the spinal cord, injuries to the spinal chord, and tumors on or near the spinal cord.

In cases where the symptoms are mild and aren’t causing any particular problems, syringomyelia doesn’t necessarily require any treatment beyond periodically monitoring the condition. When symptoms do cause problems, surgery is generally used to treat the condition.

Pain, lost reflexes, and atrophy are all common early indicators of syringomyelia. Other symptoms which sometimes accompany the pain in the arms, back, and neck include bowel function problems, bladder problems, muscle spasms (especially in the legs), facial numbness or pain, and scoliosis (curvature of the spine).

Syringomyelia often develops quite slowly, especially when it is the result of an accident. In some cases, it takes several years after the syrinx is formed before the first symptoms begin to present. Often, it eventually leads to chronic pain and motor difficulties which can make it extremely difficult to continue performing many basic day to day activities such as the ones required on most jobs.

In most cases, your doctor will use an MRI to confirm his suspicion of syringomyelia. Occasionally, CT scans are used as well. Additionally, syringomyelia is often detected when performing an MRI or CT scan for other purposes, especially when significant symptoms have not yet surfaced.

When surgery is used to treat syringomyelia, the general purpose is to relive pressure on the spinal cord. Sometimes the syrinx is removed, and at other times, it is simply drained. Follow up care is particularly important after surgery for syringomyelia because the condition has a tendency to recur. Examinations are typically performed with periodic MRIs. Even when surgery is successful and no syrinx returns, there is often significant residual damage to the nerves and spinal cord.

Filing for Disability with a Syringomyelia Diagnosis

One of the difficulties often experienced by people filing for Social Security disabilities with conditions like syringomyelia, which tend to develop over a period of time, is that they often haven’t accumulated medical documentation to support the fact that they are, in fact, disabled. Once you begin to suspect that you may have syringomyelia, you should start making sure that all of your symptoms, treatments, and visits with your health care professionals are all thoroughly documented.

When you first begin to suspect that you might have to file for disability benefits, you should contact the Social Security Administration and inform them of your intent to file for benefits. Even if you don’t decide to file yet, you will have established a protective filing date. This date is used to determine when your disability started and can affect how much back pay you are entitled to, should you be approved for disability benefits.

The specific information the SSA uses to make its judgments on disability claims for syringomyelia come from Section 11.19 of the Blue Book. More general information about how claims for neurological disorders are adjudicated can be found throughout Section 11.00.

In order to meet the Blue Book listing requirements for syringomyelia, you need to meet one or both of the following criteria :

  • Diagnosis of syringomyelia with loss of motor function of two or more extremities (hands and feet). This is covered in more detail in Section 11.04, which gives the general requirements for neurological loss of motor function.
  • Diagnosis of syringomyelia with significant signs of bulbar. Bulbar refers to the bulbous mass of tissue (in this case, the syrinx).

When filing, you will want to make sure that all of the results of any MRIs, CT Scans and other medical imaging tests are included with your claim. You will also want to make sure that your physician’s diagnosis is fully documented, and that his documentation of your condition includes description of activities which you are incapable of continuing to perform due to your condition.

Your Syringomyelia Disability Case

Filing for Social Security disability benefits generally takes a minimum of three to six months. This is assuming that everything goes smoothly, there are no complications or added documentation or testing needed, and you are approved. More often than not, the process actually takes much longer, especially if you are denied disability and you need to go through the appeals process. Syringomyelia does not always present a black and white decision for adjudicators to make, which can cause the process to drag out.

One of the best ways to make sure your claim has a decent chance of being approved is to consult a Social Security disability lawyer. The sooner in the process you bring an experienced disability attorney in to help, the better your chances are of being approved and of being able to collect your benefits sooner.