What Back Conditions Qualify for Disability?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least a quarter of all adults reported having lower back pain in the last three months. While there are numerous causes of back pain, the results are the same in many cases. Back conditions often prevent people from working and cause financial hardships for them and their families.

If you have back pain that affects your ability to work, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict requirements for medical conditions, and not all back issues fall into one of those categories. Even if your condition does meet the requirements, your claim may be denied due to errors in the application or insufficient medical records.

While the SSDI program exists to help sustain people who are unable to work due to an injury or illness, the process of applying for and receiving benefits can be challenging. Many people have to go through the appeals process when their claim is denied. 

At The Law Offices of Michael Hartup, we have years of experience helping Tennessee residents with back pain and injuries get the SSDI benefits they deserve. When you’re ready to start your application or appeal a denied claim, contact our Jackson, Tennessee, office at (731) 513-5279 or fill out our contact form.

Basic Requirements for Disability Benefits

In order to qualify for SSDI benefits, there are two main requirements you must meet: an adequate work history and a qualifying disability. 

Work History

To qualify for SSDI, you must have enough Social Security credits. You earn these credits by working and paying Social Security taxes on your income. For SSDI claims, the number of credits you need to qualify depends on your age when you become disabled. The SSA provides details on earning SSDI credits and how to use them for benefits. 

Qualifying Disability

Along with Social Security credits, you need to have a condition that meets the administration’s disability requirements to qualify for benefits. According to SSA rules, your condition must be severe enough to prevent you from working for at least 12 months. The SSA maintains a list of conditions that are considered disabilities. However, conditions that are not part of the list may also qualify for benefits if the SSA determines they are severe enough, so don’t lose hope if you don’t see your back pain or chronic spine issues on the list.

Back Conditions That Qualify for Disability Benefits

In order to qualify for SSDI benefits, you must have medical proof that your condition prevents you from being able to work. Here are some symptoms the SSA considers when evaluating your case:

  • Loss of motor function
  • Chronic pain
  • Limited mobility
  • Loss of reflexes or sensation

According to the SSA, there are three types of back conditions that qualify for benefits:

  • Nerve root compression
  • Arachnoiditis
  • Spinal stenosis

These conditions usually qualify for disability benefits. Again, other back issues or injuries may be eligible if they cause similar problems with enough severity, so don’t assume your case will be denied.

Nerve Root Compression

Also known as radiculopathy, this is when a nerve root in the spinal column is pinched. This condition causes several unpleasant symptoms:

  • Skin numbness or tingling
  • Pain in the back, shoulders, arms, and legs
  • Weakness or poor reflexes in the legs and arms

There are several different back issues or injuries that can cause nerve root compression:

  • Herniated or bulging discs
  • Ossification of spinal ligaments (thickening of the ligaments that reduces space around the nerve roots)
  • Bone spurs from degenerative conditions or trauma
  • Spinal injuries

There are some noninvasive treatments that can help nerve root compression symptoms, but surgery may also be necessary.


When back pain is caused by inflammation of the membranes around the spinal cord, it’s known as arachnoiditis. Several things can cause arachnoiditis:

  • Spinal injuries (e.g. car accidents, lifting, falling)
  • Infections (e.g. meningitis)
  • Complications from spinal surgery
  • Epidural or spinal anesthesia
  • Chronic compression of the spinal nerves (e.g. degenerative disc disease)

If you have a back injury or infection, there is a chance you can qualify for disability benefits if the condition causes arachnoiditis. Some common symptoms of arachnoiditis include the following:

  • Balance problems
  • Back pain
  • Muscle spasms or cramps
  • Incontinence and/or sexual dysfunction
  • Hearing and vision problems

Some severe cases of arachnoiditis can cause lower-body paralysis.

Spinal Stenosis

Most common in the neck (cervical stenosis) or lower back (lumbar stenosis), spinal stenosis is when the spaces within the spine decrease and increase pressure on the spinal nerves. While aging is one of the most common causes of spinal stenosis, there are several other possible causes:

  • Osteoarthritis, which reduces cartilage and causes bone spurs to develop
  • Spinal fractures and associated inflammation
  • Scoliosis
  • Spinal cord tumors or cysts

There are several symptoms of spinal stenosis:

  • Back or neck pain
  • Numbness in arms and legs
  • Leg cramps
  • Weakness in arms, hands, legs, and feet

Spinal stenosis can also lead to nerve root compression. For example, a herniated disc may cause spinal stenosis, which then causes radiculopathy. 

Disability Benefits for Other Back Conditions

If your back issue doesn’t perfectly line up with the SSA’s list of qualifying conditions, you may still be eligible for benefits through a medical-vocational allowance. You can receive SSDI benefits if the SSA determines that your back condition prevents you from working at your former occupation or finding a new occupation. The Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment determines how your condition affects core physical abilities:

  • Carrying
  • Standing
  • Walking
  • Sitting
  • Pushing and pulling
  • Range of motion for bending and lifting

For example, if your back condition makes you unable to lift things or sit, stand, or walk for certain periods of time, you may be eligible for disability benefits because you can’t find gainful employment.

An Experienced Attorney Can Help You Get Your SSDI Benefits

Many types of back pain qualify for disability benefits, but it can be challenging to figure out how your issue fits into the SSA’s list of qualifying medical conditions. Even if you have the necessary medical documentation, the process to apply for and receive SSDI benefits can be difficult.

At The Law Offices of Michael Hartup, we understand how complex the application process is. We also know that an initial denial doesn’t necessarily mean you are disqualified from receiving benefits. While you don’t need a disability attorney to file for SSDI, our team can discuss your case and help with your application or appeal, which can relieve more stress for you.

Want our help navigating SSDI for your back pain or injury? Get started by using our online contact form to schedule a free consultation with our experienced staff. You can also call our Jackson, Tennessee, office directly at (731) 513-5279. To learn more about disability benefits, like our Facebook page.