Ankylosing Spondylitis

Learn about qualifying impairments for Social Security Disability from the team at Nash Disability Law.
Dan Rosen of Nash Disability Law knows exactly what evidence on medical impairments will win a Social Security Disability case.

Social Security Disability Benefits for Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a particularly debilitating and painful form of arthritis. According to a USA Today report, one in three Americans suffers from arthritis, and it is a leading cause of disability because for many of those with the disease, their symptoms make it impossible to hold a job. AS is an inflammatory disease that can cause some of the vertebrae in your spine to fuse together. This fusing makes the spine less flexible and can result in a hunched-forward posture. If your ribs are affected, it may be difficult to breathe deeply. Although it is often diagnosed in young men, AS can impact men or women of any age. There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis; it is a lifelong chronic condition.

AS can be challenging to diagnose because its symptoms are not always specific to AS alone. Tests used to diagnose AS can include x-rays, physical exams, and genetic testing.

If your pain and loss of mobility from AS prevents you from working and you are considering applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), here’s what you need to know to give yourself the best chance of winning your case.

Social Security Administration (SSA) rules state that to be found disabled, an individual must have a medically determinable “severe” physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that is expected to last 12 months or result in death. There are two ways you can qualify for benefits. The first way is when your impairment meets the criteria in SSA’s Blue Book (Listing of Impairments). Social Security says to meet the AS criteria you must have at least one of the following, and be able provide medical imaging as proof:

  • Ankylosis (fixation) of the dorsolumbar or cervical spine as shown by appropriate medically acceptable imaging and measured on physical examination at 45° or more of flexion from the vertical position (zero degrees); or
  • Ankylosis (fixation) of the dorsolumbar or cervical spine as shown by appropriate medically acceptable imaging and measured on physical examination at 30° or more of flexion (but less than 45°) measured from the vertical position (zero degrees), and involvement of two or more organs/body systems with one of the organs/body systems involved to at least a moderate level of severity.

Often, disability applicants do not meet the exact Blue Book criteria. However, there is hope, because there is a second way you can qualify for Social Security disability benefits: by proving that ankylosing spondylitis, in combination with any other health problem or problems that you may have, prevents you from doing work that you did before, and prevents you from adjusting to any other type of work that is performed in the national economy.

It is important to keep in mind that when it comes to qualifying for Social Security disability benefits, it is not just the name of the disease that counts, but whether or not the disease causes symptoms that make you unable to sustain a job. Predictably, many people who the SSA says have severe limitations that keep them from returning to their old jobs are also found to be young enough and have suitable education and skills to be able to switch to some other kind of work.

To meet Social Security requirements for disability, you must prove your medical problems are severe. If Social Security decides you do not meet the Blue Book criteria, it decides your disability claim by determining your “Residual Functional Capacity,” or “RFC.” An RFC is a finding of what you able to do despite your medical problems. Social Security will want to know of any limitations or restrictions that you have because of your condition, such as difficulties standing, walking, sitting, and using your arms and hands.   SSA will also want to know if your AS causes enough pain or fatigue that it affects your ability to concentrate or requires you to lie down for symptom relief.

Often people with a chronic illness learn how to cope by pushing through. But when your doctor asks how you’re feeling, be accurate and complete in describing your symptoms, so that they can be documented in your medical records. In addition to detailed medical reports from your doctor, it is important to keep your own records such as a diary, calendar or employment records to show how often your symptoms affect you.

To qualify for benefits, it is not enough just to say you are disabled. You must provide detailed medical records and documentation from your medical providers to back up your case. To determine if you are disabled and eligible for benefits, Social Security Administration enlists a complex set of rules, which can vary according to your age, so evaluating the specific circumstances of your case is critically important.  For a free evaluation of your case, call the Chicago Social Security Disability lawyers at Nash Disability Law.