Can I Continue Working with Fibromyalgia?

What is Fibromyalgia? 

Fibromyalgia is a medical condition which causes a person to experience pain throughout their body, often due to stimuli which typically don’t cause pain, such as light pressure, touch, odors, sounds, and changes in temperature. Other symptoms which typically accompany fibromyalgia include:

  • Cognitive dysfunction (delirium or a confused state)
  • Severe and chronic fatigue
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Sleep Interruptions
  • Bowel problems
  • Bladder problems
  • Stiffness of the joints
  • Difficulty swallowing

In addition, fibromyalgia is often accompanied by psychiatric disorders, notably:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Stress related disorders (including PTSD)

The actual symptoms experienced vary from case to case. The defining condition is the chronic pain and sensitivity to pressure or touch. The other conditions may be present in any combination. Fibromyalgia is much more common among women than among men, with nine times as many women than men diagnosed with the condition.

There is some disagreement about whether fibromyalgia is a neurological/psychiatric condition or a musculoskeletal condition. The most widely accepted belief today is that it is primarily neurological. There is no cure for fibromyalgia, though there are a number of treatment options available which can improve the quality of life.

Is Fibromyalgia a Disability?

You can get disability with fibromyalgia if you are able to prove that your condition makes it impossible for you to to work. If you are able to prove that, you may be able to get disbaility with fibromaylgia. 

If you have tried working with the symptoms of fibromyalgia and the pain and fatigue associated with the disease has kept you out of work, you should consider filing a claim for Social Security disability benefits.

Receiving a diagnosis for fibromyalgia does not automatically qualify you for Social Security disability benefits. You have to demonstrate the symptoms of the musculoskeletal disorder negatively impact your ability to hold down a steady job. A team of medical examiners at the SSA considers every one of your symptoms, including the common symptoms of intense pain and chronic fatigue.

The SSA has created a medical guide called the Blue Book, which is a list of disabilities that qualify applicants for disability benefits.

In addition to listing medical disorders, the SSA requires applicants to prove they suffer from the seriousness of symptoms that accompany a medical condition such as fibromyalgia.

You also have to meet other criteria like collecting enough work credits over the course of a year. Accumulating enough work credits depends on your income and the minimum income threshold established by the SSA.

How Fibromyalgia Affects Your Physical Capacity for Work

Many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia can affect your ability to perform physical work. In the first place, sensitivities to light, sound, temperature changes, and odors significantly limit the types of work environments you can work in.

The pain that is associated with fibromyalgia can limit your ability to stand or sit for long periods of time. It can also affect your ability to lift, carry, push, pull, and grasp. Those who experience joint pain as a result of fibromyalgia may also have difficulty bending, lifting, walking, and performing other common actions required in physical work. The numbness and tingling which often accompanies fibromyalgia can make fine motor movements difficult, making even light physical work problematic.

Perhaps most significantly, the chronic fatigue which usually comes with fibromyalgia can make it extremely difficult to stay focused any task for an extended period of time, especially if it is combined with some of the psychiatric/neurological effects. Several of the other symptoms can also make physical work impractical for fibromyalgia sufferers.

How Fibromyalgia Affects Your Mental Capacity for Work

If your fibromyalgia is accompanied by a psychiatric disorder, or if it causes short term memory loss or difficulty concentrating, it can affect your mental capacity for work. These symptoms can make it difficult to succeed in any work environment, whether physical or sedentary.

Can You Get Disability for Fibromyalgia?

Since fibromyalgia can be a difficult medical condition to diagnose, health care providers usually rule out other diseases by conducting a thorough physical examination that includes several different types of blood tests.

According to SSA guidelines, you have to show you suffer from a serious physical or mental impairment that makes it impossible to work. The SSA defines a disability as "the inability to do any substantial gainful activity due to your medical or mental problem."

The Blue Book does not specifically list fibromyalgia as a medical condition that qualifies you for disability benefits. However, the Blue Book contains a section devoted to musculoskeletal disorders that might qualify you for disability benefits if you meet the severity of symptoms standards listed by the SSA.

Even if you are denied benefits by the SSA for fibromyalgia, you can undergo a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment that determines your ability to work with the symptoms of the medical disorder.  Be sure to look out for the signs that you will be denied for disability.

A physician from the SSA puts you through several tests to conclude whether the pain and fatigue associated with the disease are severe enough to prevent you from working your current job.

How Do I Apply for Disability With Fibromyalgia?

You can contact the nearest SSA office to apply for disability benefits for fibromyalgia. Most of the information the federal agency collects can be done over the phone, as well as by mail and online.

The key is to prove the symptoms of fibromyalgia prevent you from working your current job. Your physician should submit the results of diagnostic tests and your employer has to show you have missed a significant amount of time from work because the severe symptoms of the disease make it impossible to complete normal job tasks.

Working with a Social Security attorney can help strengthen the claim you file for Social Security disability benefits with fibromyalgia.

2 Minutes To See If You Qualify

Fibromyalgia is not yet listed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the Blue Book. What that means for claimants is that there are no cut and dried standards for whether you can be approved for disability benefits based on fibromyalgia. Instead, you must show medical evidence which supports one of the following:

  • Your fibromyalgia symptoms are equivalent to the symptoms in a disabling condition which the SSA does recognize in the Blue Book. For fibromyalgia, this often means showing that your symptoms exceed the requirements for disability of musculoskeletal conditions which cause generalized pain and fatigue or neurological disorders which exhibit similar symptoms.
  • Your fibromyalgia symptoms make it unreasonable to expect that you could do any sort of work you have performed over the past 15 years. If you are under 60, you will also need to show that your condition is severe enough that you cannot reasonably be expected to learn any other available job for which you are qualified (i.e., have the job skills and/or education required or the ability to learn them).

Many Social Security disability claimants find it helpful to have a lawyer go over the particulars of their claim with them before presenting their claim to the SSA. Fill out the form located throughout this site for a free evaluation of your disability claim by an attorney or disability advocate in your area.

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Do You Qualify