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Social Security Standards for Musculoskeletal Disability

Musculoskeletal disabilities make up a high percentage of Social Security and SSI disability claims. These include all back pain, arthritic, leg and arm impairments. The key to these rules is that the evaluation stresses functional abilities. Emphasized is the ability “to ambulate and perform fine and gross movements on a sustained basis.”

Let’s look at arthritis. The regulations review anatomical deformity, chronic joint pain and limitation of motion, and results of various imaging techniques. The new part of the regulation considers function.

You can show either the involvement of “one peripheral weight bearing joint” – this means hip, knee or ankle – resulting in an inability to walk effectively, or you can show the involvement of “one peripheral joint in each upper extremity” – this means shoulder, elbow or “wrist-hand,” resulting in an inability to effectively perform fine and gross motor movements.

An impairment in gross motor movement, such as walking, must show “an extreme limitation in the ability to walk.” It seems to require that the function of the arms and hands is limited by a cane, walker or crutches. A person who can only get around by using both hands to assist in functioning would be considered disabled. “Effective ambulation” is defined as the ability to sustain a “reasonable walking pace over sufficient distance to be able to carry out activities of daily living.”

Fine motor impairment involves loss of function in both upper extremities that “interferes with” ability to “initiate, sustain or complete activities.”

Pain is considered when it is deemed reasonably related to an underlying musculoskeletal impairment. As before, it is difficult to get Social Security to purchase medical imaging other than x-rays, which are singularly unhelpful in diagnosing arthritic and soft tissue disorders.

Further Resources:

Arthritis Foundation – National non-profit dedicated to help people suffering from arthritis through research, education and outreach. – Information on different types of arthritis, treatment options and alternative therapies.

Disability Evaluation Under Social Security – Information from the SSA site on the requirements for claiming arthritis as a disability.

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