Disability benefits for “invisible” conditions like fibromyalgia or chronic pain

by Feb 28, 2017Frequently Asked Questions

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It can be difficult to obtain SSDI or SSI disability benefits for fibromyalgia or chronic pain.

Some disabilities are obvious and easily proven. For example, it isn’t difficult to conclusively prove that someone is a quadriplegic or that they have cancer. There are objective medical criteria to demonstrate the existence of those conditions, and it is relatively straightforward to prove the extent to which they may impact a patient’s life. For some conditions, however, including fibromyalgia, chronic pain and other so-called “invisible” illnesses, the process of quantifying the impact they have, and the ways in which they keep the patient from consistently working, can be much more difficult.

Differing opinions

Fibromyalgia is a medical condition characterized by widespread chronic pain, fatigue, sleep disruptions, problems with memory and concentration, and tender points across the body. It is believed to be the result of overactive nerves that send impulses that the brain interprets as pain signals. Though the symptoms of fibromyalgia have been documented in medical literature since the 1800s, the American College of Rheumatology only issued its first guidelines for diagnosing the condition in 1990. Prior to that, many physicians thought that fibromyalgia was more of a psychosomatic issue than an actual disorder; even today, there are some in the medical community who don’t acknowledge that it is a “real” condition.

Other types of chronic pain are often associated with underlying conditions that could be the basis for a disability claim. These include such conditions as diabetes (that can lead to the extreme nerve damage and pain of neuropathy) and spinal cord injuries. That being said, if the underlying condition itself isn’t debilitating enough to keep the patient from working, then benefits will need to be requested on the basis of the pain itself, something that can be difficult to prove.

The benefits process

While it can be a tedious and exacting task to apply for benefits even with an “obvious” condition, the process can be more difficult when your condition involves fibromyalgia or chronic pain because it can be hard to prove the impact these disorders have on your life. You will need persuasive medical evidence from your physicians, not just blanket statements that you suffer from pain. Evidence can be in the form of X-rays, MRI results, CT scans, prescription medication lists and previous therapies you’ve tried to manage your pain (including injections, steroid treatments, physical therapy, electrical stimulation/TENS, massage, and alternative options like acupuncture or reflexology).

Even if you have abundant medical evidence regarding your disability, it is still possible that your benefits application will be initially denied. Sometimes, correcting deficiencies in your claim application will result in a benefit award once you resubmit for reconsideration, but every case is unique. To give you a statistically better chance of having benefits awarded at the initial application level or upon appeal, consider working with an experienced Social Security Disability attorney like those at the Knoxville law offices of the Disability Advantage Group. You can call the firm toll free at 865-566-0800 or send them an email to schedule your free consultation.