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Prove Pain in a Social Security Disability Case
Written By : Sandra Haas, Esq. 
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What is the Social Security Administration's main goal in my disability case? The Social Security Administration's main goal is to decide whether you are able to work doing either your past job or any type of job. Does the Social Security Administration (SSA) consider the pain I am in when deciding whether to award me disability benefits?

In many cases, it is the person's pain that makes them unable to work full time. Pain is subjective, meaning it cannot be measured and everyone's tolerance for pain differs. Pain can limit what you can do, which can be measured. For example you cannot lift more than 5 pounds, sit for more than 30 minutes or walk farther than 50 yards. These are examples of "exertional limitations." What happens if my pain is not from doing something (walking, sitting etc.) so it cannot be measured?

The SSA recognizes that chronic pain and non-exertional pain (pain not from doing something) exists and can limit what you can do at a job. The SSA looks at a number of different things to decide the effect of pain on your ability to work:

  • They look at your daily activities.
  • They look at the location of your pain, how often and how long you have pain, and how intense the pain feels.
  • They look at what makes the pain appear and what makes the pain worsen.
  • They look at the medications you take and what effects the medications may have.
  • They look at what you do in order to make the pain go away or lessen (lying flat, using heat or ice, etc.).
  • They look at how your activity is limited because of your pain.

What can I do to prove my pain affects my being able to work?

  1. Be specific when describing your pain. Don't say," I hurt all over and I am in constant pain." Rather say, "I have extreme pain in my lower back. On a scale from 1 to 10 my lower back is a 5, but if I walk or stand for more than 20 minutes, the pain jumps to an 8 or 9. The pain stays that way until I take medication." Don't always say your pain is at a level of 10 because the SSA might think you are exaggerating and have a harder time believing you.
  2. Be Consistent when describing your pain. Your testimony at your hearing will be considered stronger if what you tell your doctor at every visit about your pain level is the same as what you have told the SSA in the application process. If there is no medical test (MRI, etc.) to prove the source of your pain, your testimony will be a very important factor in deciding whether you are found disabled. Be consistent and specific.
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  More from Sandra Haas, Esq.
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