Sciatica refers to nerve pain from irritation of the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body. If you suffer from sciatica you may have pain, numbness, and inflammation which starts in your lower back and radiates down one thigh to just below the knee. Sciatica is generally caused by a compression of your spine due to a herniated disk or bone spur, lumbar spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal), or Spondylolisthesis (a condition where the vertebra slips forward over another vertebrae).
Sciatica can be severe and can cause the following symptoms:
Burning pain in the rear, especially when sitting
Burning and tingling which radiates down the thigh
Weakness and numbing in the foot or leg
Constant, gripping pain in the buttocks
Shooting pain which makes it difficult to stand and walk
Sciatica and Treatment Options
If you suffer from severe sciatica there are conservative treatment options including physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, and steroid injections. Other more aggressive treatments, such as surgery, may also be needed if other treatment options do not relieve the pain. Recently on our disability forum a user asked, If I have been suffering from sciatica for four months and I am having difficulty walking would I qualify for SSDI benefits?
Social Security Disability Insurance and Sciatica
To qualify for SSDI benefits disability applicants must have a severe health condition which is so serious it will not allow them to complete substantial gainful activity for at least 12 continuous months.
While no one can argue with the debilitating effects of sciatica pain, the question when applying for SSDI benefits will be whether or not you have sought adequate treatment, whether the treatment is able to relieve the pain, and whether you are able to maintain full-time employment.
There are two ways the SSA will determine if you are disabled. First, they will review their Listing of Impairments, which is a list of all the conditions and symptoms they consider automatically disabling. Specifically, the SSA will determine if your back condition meets the listing described under 1.00 Musculoskeletal System, Section 1.04 Disorders of the Spine.
Generally, sciatica will not meet a listing on the SSA Listing of Impairments. In fact, sciatica can generally be treated and symptoms will abate. If, however, your sciatica has caused severe and permanent damage you may be able to win SSDI benefits by proving your condition is so severe you do not have the residual capacity to work due to loss of movement in your legs, numbness, or severe bowel and urinary incontinence.
Inability to work with my Sciatica
As mentioned above, your sciatica will probably not meet a listing in the SSA Listing of Impairments, but you may be able to prove your impairment prevents you from working full-time. To make this determination the SSA will prepare a residual functional capacity assessment or RFC. This evaluation will determine whether you have the ability to perform light, medium, or heavy work. More specifically, the SSA will determine your ability to complete common work tasks such as standing, walking, stooping, climbing, and sitting. In some cases if your doctor determines your functional ability is severely limited you may be able to prove you cannot do sedentary work because you are unable to sit for extended periods of time.