Is Foraminal Stenosis A Disability?

Foraminal stenosis is a type of spinal stenosis that affects a specific area of the spine. 

Spinal stenosis is also referred to as "neural foraminal narrowing" given that this condition involves the narrowing or the tightening of the openings located between the bones of your spine. The small openings in your spine are called foramen, and nerves pass through the foramen from your spinal cord into the rest of your body. As the foramen close in, it can lead to those nerves becoming pinched. You can receive disability benefits for foraminal stenosis if you have supporting medical documentation.

Is Foraminal Stenosis a Disability?

According to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) criteria, yes, Foraminal Stenosis may be considered a disability so long as its symptoms experienced by the applicant are serious enough to prevent them from working. Disability benefits can help a person with Foraminal Stenosis cover the cost-of-living expenses when they are forced to leave their job because the pain associated with the condition has gotten too severe.

The SSA has quite exacting criteria before approving disability benefits payments for Foraminal Stenosis. As such, in order to be able to qualify for disability benefits with Foraminal Stenosis, the following criteria must be met.

  • The symptoms of the Foraminal Stenosis experienced must match those in the relevant Blue Book listing under 1.00–Musculoskeletal Disorders. Foraminal Stenosis is a specific type of Spinal Stenosis, which is described in detail under Section 1.04 in the SSA’s Blue Book. If the Foraminal Stenosis symptoms do not match the Blue Book listing’s description exactly, then the applicant can ask their physician to perform a Residual Functional Capacity assessment (RFC), which assesses exactly what the applicant is able to do (i.e., what the applicant is capable and not capable of doing), such as standing, sitting, lifting, bending and walking.
  • Medical evidence proving the existence of narrowed spinal foramen (pl. foremina) and how the condition (i.e., Foraminal Stenosis) has developed must be provided alongside the applicant’s application. More specifically, X-ray reports and scans of affected parts of the spine should be provided. In addition to these X-ray reports and scans, the person’s comprehensive medical history and records, as well as a prognosis for future development of the Foraminal Stenosis will be needed. Basically, SSA examiners will be looking at the evidence you provide to see that the Foraminal Stenosis symptoms you say you experience meet the Blue Book criteria.
  • Evidence that the pain and discomfort experienced due to the disability prevents the applicant from working for at least the next 12 months. Both an RFC and doctor’s assessment can help to establish this as well.
  • Sufficient work credits accumulated during the applicant’s previous period(s) of employment are necessary in order to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. However, in order to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), proof that the applicant’s assets and income are low enough—more specifically, below the SSI income cap set by the SSA—to qualify for this specific disability benefits program.

Bilateral Foraminal Stenosis

Bilateral foraminal stenosis is a type of foraminal stenosis in which the foramina on both the left and right sides of the spine have become so narrow that the nerve roots are pinched. As such, people with bilateral foraminal stenosis tend to experience symptoms on both the left and right sides of their body. 

There are a few causes of bilateral foraminal stenosis. Normal wear and tear affects the spinal column by wearing it down. This can cause spinal pressure to be put on the foraminal canals which thereby limits the space through which the nerve roots travel through the spinal canal. However, bilateral foraminal stenosis is typically caused by a degenerative condition that affects the spine.  

Some of the causes of bilateral foraminal narrowing can include: 

  • Bone spurs
  • Age-related disc degeneration
  • Bulging disc
  • Slipped disc
  • Osteoporosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Spondylolisthesis

How Does Foraminal Stenosis Affect Your Ability To Work?

Foraminal stenosis is a kind of lumbar stenosis that can cause numbness, weakness, burning sensations, pins and needles sensations, tingling, and pain in the arms and legs. This can affect your ability to stand long periods, it can affect your ability to walk, may require frequent repositioning, and can affect your ability to effectively use your arms and legs.

Foraminal stenosis symptoms can keep you from working in manufacturing or assembly, can affect your ability to load and unload items, can prevent you from bookkeeping and maintaining thorough records, and can keep you from making deliveries or driving a truck. Basically, depending on the severity of the symptoms, you may not be able to perform any work and could be completely disabled per SSA guidelines.

Is Foraminal Stenosis Serious?

The healthcare industry defines spinal stenosis as a narrowing of the opening where nerves come out of the spinal column. Nerve roots move through both sides of the spine, which are referred to as neuro foramen. However, when someone has spinal stenosis, these spaces in their backbone are oftentimes too small and this is what can cause pressure to be put on the nerves that travel through the spine as well as the spinal cord.   

As one of the three types of spinal stenosis, the symptoms of foraminal stenosis can typically be alleviated by medical care. However, the condition can into a serious condition that can make a patient eligible for receiving financial assistance under a disability program managed by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

When the spinal opening narrows considerably, the result is the development of symptoms such as intense burning sensations, as well a numbness in a large area of the back. Knowing the answer to the question, “Is foraminal stenosis serious” happens when you cannot complete basic body movements. The burning pain becomes overwhelming, as even getting up from a chair is a physically demanding activity.

Serious symptoms of foraminal stenosis can also prevent you from sitting or bending your upper body forward. The spaces that allow nerve roots to move out of the spine become too small, which places pressure on the vertebrae. However, the Catch-22 is if you do not move your upper body in some way, then the symptoms of foraminal stenosis can worsen considerably.

Getting treatments for the spinal disorder that can include spinal surgery might help you recover most, if not all of your normal upper body movements. Minimally invasive laser disc repair, which can be performed on an outpatient basis, is a common procedure used to treat foraminal stenosis.

Qualifying With The Foraminal Stenosis Symptoms

Foraminal Stenosis can be one of the spine disorders that qualify for disability. The symptoms of foraminal stenosis can be severely disabling. The SSA uses a medical guide, which is called the Blue Book, to determine if a claimant medically qualifies for disability benefits.

The Blue Book is the list of conditions that qualify for disability. There is a listing for spinal stenosis in the Blue Book. To meet the criteria of the spinal stenosis listing, you must provide medical records to support your claim. You must meet the following criteria –

  • Have a positive MRI or CT scan confirming foraminal stenosis
  • Have pain in your lower back and thighs with weakness in the lower extremities
  • Have continual non-radicular pain AND
  • Not be able to walk without the help of a walker, two crutches, or someone’s help

Qualifying Without Meeting Blue Book Criteria

If your foraminal stenosis cannot meet the specifics of a Blue Book listing, you can qualify using a residual functional capacity (RFC) form completed by your physician. The RFC will detail how often you must reposition, if you need assistance to walk, your ability to stand, and what you can and cannot do in a normal day due to foraminal stenosis.

The disability examiner should be able to review the RFC and determine if you are able to work – and if you can work – what kind of work you can do. With a detailed RFC, you can have a successful claim and be approved for disability benefits because of foraminal stenosis.



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Have Your Case Reviewed By An Attorney

With the help of an attorney or a disability advocate you may be more likely to have your disability claim approved. An attorney can work with your physicians to determine if your foraminal stenosis will qualify for benefits. A disability attorney may also review the details of your medical records and determine if your foraminal stenosis could qualify by matching the criteria of a Blue Book listing. With the help of an attorney, your odds of a claim approval may improve.  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 before you file for disability

Additional Resources

Additional Resources