Changes to Social Security’s Disability Listings for Musculoskeletal Disorders

Social Security has made extensive changes to its musculoskeletal disability listings, effective April 2, 2021.

Social Security has made changes to its musculoskeletal disability listings, effective April 2, 2021. (The criteria in the new listing will apply to new applications filed on or after that date and to pending claims.) The musculoskeletal listings cover back and spine issues, joint issues, amputations, and broken bones. The main changes include the following:

  • All listings have been renumbered and now have multiple requirements.
  • There is a new listing for pathologic fractures caused by a disease process, rather than trauma, as well as a new listing for spinal stenosis separate from other spinal disorders.
  • Spinal arachnoiditis will now be evaluated under the neurological listings (listing 11.08) rather than the musculoskeletal listings.
  • In the new listings, Social Security places an emphasis on documentation from an acceptable medical source (such as a doctor, surgeon, or nurse practitioner), as well as medical imaging, such as MRIs.
  • A factor common to these listings is either inability to use both hands for work-related functions due to a disease like arthritis, or hands that are not available for work-related functions because they must be used for use of devices to walk, like crutches or a wheelchair. The SSA emphasizes that inability to ambulate is no longer the basis of a disabling impairment, but rather both of the upper extremities not being available for work-related functions. Needing a wheelchair or other seated mobility device that involves the use of only one hand is not a basis of a disabling impairment under the new listings.
  • Changes in child listings parallel those for adults, except that an inability to perform age-appropriate activities is the criterion rather than work-related abilities.

The new listings will be explained in depth in the next edition of Nolo's Guide to Social Security Disability: Getting & Keeping Your Benefits, by David Morton, M.D..