Compression of the nerve roots in the spinal cord results in a great deal of pain, and can also cause sensory loss, tingling, loss of motion, decreased reflexes, and muscle weakness. Patients who suffer from nerve root compression can find it difficult to sit or stand in one position for long, to walk without pain, and to bend over or lift heavy items. Those with severe spinal nerve root compression problems often are unable to work.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that severe nerve root compression can be debilitating, and as a result, the agency has created an official impairment listing in its "Blue Book" of impairments. If your condition matches the requirements in this listing, you can get Social Security disability benefits.
To qualify under listing 1.15 for "disorders of the skeletal spine resulting in compromise of a nerve root," you must show that you suffer from ALL of the following:
In addition, your nerve root compression problems must have lasted, or be expected to last, 12 months or more.
Social Security notes several examples of back conditions that can cause nerve compression:
There may be other back problems that lead to nerve root compression that the SSA doesn't list. Social Security can award benefits for nerve root compression caused by other conditions as well, if the condition meets the requirements above.
Social Security will request your medical records from your doctors and any clinics you've visited. Your records should include imaging confirming a diagnosis of nerve root compression and notes from a detailed physical exam, including testing your:
If your compromised nerve root is in the lumbar spine, Social Security will also want to see the results of a positive "straight-leg raising test" (also known as a "Lasègue test").
Your records should also include the various treatments you have tried, such as pain medication, physical therapy, or steroid injections, as well as the side effects of the pain medication. You should ask your doctor to record how your pain, medication side effects, and other symptoms limit your ability to work. Your records should also include what functional restrictions your doctor has placed on you (for example, no standing or walking for longer than two hours at a time).
If you've been diagnosed with nerve root compression but you don't fulfill the listing requirements above, you may still be able to qualify for disability benefits under what's called a "medical-vocational allowance," particularly if you are 55 years or older. For more information on medical-vocational allowances, see our article on disability RFCs for back problems.
You can apply for Social Security disability in person at your local SSA office, by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213, or online at www.ssa.gov. To complete the disability application, you'll need detailed information, including the contact information and dates of treatment for all of your medical providers, the dates of any medical tests, and the names, addresses, and dates of employment for all of your employers in the last 15 years.
For more information, see our article on applying for Social Security disability benefits.
If you'd like help with your application, think about working with a legal professional. Click for a free case evaluation with an SSDI expert to determine whether your spinal condition is severe enough to qualify for benefits.
Updated January 17, 2022