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Orthopedic injuries and Social Security disability benefits

Social Security disability insurance benefits can be a lifesaver when accident or illness renders an individual unable to work. Such assistance is generally reserved for individuals with a condition expected to last -- and prohibit the performance of work duties of any kind -- for at least twelve months. Due to that durational requirement, many workers suffering from orthopedic conditions might have difficulty qualifying for SSDI assistance.

Orthopedic impairments are disabling conditions affecting the bones and joints. In addition to broken bones, a range of issues affecting the connective tissues in the joints may also fall under this category, such as osteoarthritis, herniated discs, and degenerative changes. 

The Social Security Administration classifies such orthopedic injuries as musculoskeletal. However, that inclusion does not mean that SSDI applications on this basis are quickly approved. To the contrary, the Social Security’s listing of disabilities, called the Blue Book, contains detailed requirements about the type of examinations and records that should be submitted with applications. Even then, additional treatment records may be necessary to establish the severity of the orthopedic condition, and the extent to which it impairs an individual’s capacity for daily and work functioning. Tests like MRIs, CAT scans and other imaging technology may also provide supporting evidence.

One particularly frustrating aspect to this process is the issue of pain. Orthopedic injuries can be extremely painful and impair an individual’s range of movement. However, if some movement is possible, SSA officials may not agree that an individual is unable to work. Quantifying pain, for purposes of SSDI eligibility, might be characterized as more of a legal argument than a medical diagnosis. For that reason, an attorney might provide assistance in presenting such claims.

Source: huffingtonpost.com, “Orthopedic Injuries: Prehab to Avoid Rehab,” Mirabai Holland, Aug. 26, 2013

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