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Disability for Back Pain: How to Qualify and Apply for SSDI

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
December 7, 2022  ·  3 min read

Jump to

  1. Is back pain a disability?  
  2. Can you get disability for back pain? 
  3. Criteria for getting disability with back pain
  4. My back pain meets the criteria. Now what? 
  5. What if my back pain doesn’t meet the criteria? 
  6. How much is a disability check for back pain? 

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See if you qualify

About 65 million Americans recently experienced back pain and 16 million of them experience chronic back pain that makes it difficult for them to complete normal daily activities. If you’re one of them, you might not realize that you can get disability for back pain. 

In 2020, 2.9 million people received disability benefits for conditions like back pain that impacted their musculoskeletal system. 

We’ll cover how the SSA defines back pain, when back pain qualifies as a disability, and what to do if you’re eligible for benefits. 


Note: The easiest way to see if you qualify for disability is by taking our 2-minute eligibility quiz. You’ll get instant insight into your chances. Plus, you’ll have the option to connect with a client advocate for more personalized advice. 


Is back pain a disability?  

Back pain is a disability. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), back pain becomes a disability when it limits your ability to engage in daily activities, including those your work requires. If your back pain prevents you from working, you may be able to claim monthly benefits and healthcare.

How the SSA defines back pain

The SSA classifies back pain under its criteria for orthopedic issues, more specifically back and spine diagnoses.

How the SSA evaluates your back pain does depend on the origin of your back pain. But no matter where your pain comes from, you may qualify if your pain limits your mobility, interferes with daily activities, requires surgery, or requires treatment.

Common types of back pain

Back pain can be hard to classify. There are many different causes of back pain, and those causes may all present differently. 

Common causes of back pain include: 

  • Bulging disc
  • Degenerative disc/joint disease/osteoarthritis
  • Herniated disc
  • Sciatica

Back pain from these or other causes can present in the following ways: 

  • Acute back pain: occurs suddenly and lasts a few days to a few weeks.
  • Subacute back pain: also occurs suddenly, but lasts as long as 4 to 12 weeks.
  • Chronic back pain: occurs slowly, but lasts more than 12 weeks. 

Can you get disability for back pain? 

You can get disability for back pain if it limits your ability to work or otherwise complete regular daily activities. Though experiencing back pain for any length of time can be debilitating, the SSA requires extensive medical evidence before you can receive benefits payments. 

It can be harder to qualify if you’re not already seeing a doctor or receiving treatment for your back pain, but an experienced disability lawyer can increase your odds of approval. 

Criteria for getting disability with back pain

To get disability benefits, you’ll first have to prove that you meet the SSA’s criteria for back pain. 

You’ll need a few types of evidence—medical and non-medical. You’ll want documentation on how your back pain impacts your daily life, doctors notes from a recent physical exam, imaging tests that demonstrate your back pain, and records showing how your back pain has responded to treatment. 

The SSA will review your back pain and your evidence based on the following criteria: 

  • Does your back pain prevent you from walking a moderate distance? 
  • Do you need an assistive device, like a cane, walker, or brace?
  • Do you experience discomfort when you sit or stand? 
  • Are you unable to complete basic tasks, specifically in your work environment? 
  • What does your back pain prevent you from doing? 
  • How does your back pain impact your range of motion and mobility? 
  • Do you require therapy or injections? 
  • Will you require surgery? If you’ve already had surgery, how has that impacted your back pain? 
  • Do you seek treatment from a chiropractor, neurosurgeon, orthopedic surgeon, physical therapy, or a spine or pain management specialist?
  • Have you confirmed your back pain through diagnostic testing, like X-Rays, an MRI, or a CAT Scan? 

In short, if you answer yes to some or most of the following, consider applying: 

  • Am I already seeing a pain management specialist? Do I have a treatment plan in place? Have I received a diagnosis for my back pain? 
  • Can I sit or stand for an extended period of time? 
  • Do I have difficulty walking? 
  • Is there a weight limit for what I am able to lift or move?

My back pain meets the criteria. Now what? 

If your back pain meets the criteria and you have enough evidence to prove it, you can apply for disability benefits as soon as you’re ready. It’s important to note that, according to the SSA, your symptoms alone are not enough; you’ll have to show how those symptoms limit your ability to work. 

If you’re still unsure, start with our two-minute quiz. It’ll break down you whether or not you qualify. Plus, your responses will help us connect you with a team member who can give you personalized legal advice. 

SSDI vs. SSI

Applying for the right type of disability can also increase your odds of approval. Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) is typically based on your work and tax history, while Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) is typically for individuals with very little income and assets.

It’s also possible to qualify for both programs, so make sure to consult a lawyer if you’re unsure which type of disability is right for you. 

What if my back pain doesn’t meet the criteria? 

If your back pain doesn’t meet the criteria, you can still apply. There’s no penalty for applying as long as you’re honest about the pain you’re experiencing and how it impacts your work. 

Qualifying for disability is difficult no matter how severe your pain is. 80% of people don’t win their disability claim on the first time they apply. But don’t give up! 

You can always appeal with more medical evidence, and if you can appear in front of a judge, your odds of approval are much higher.

How much is a disability check for back pain? 

The average disability check for back pain and other issues impacting the musculoskeletal system is $1,341.63, but your actual disability check depends on your unique situation. Regardless of how severe your disability is, the maximum you’ll receive per month is $3,600 through SSDI and $941 through SSI in 2023.

Other factors can impact your disability check, so it’s important that you thoroughly fill out your application. The SSA takes your personal work history into account to determine your SSDI payment amount. They also consider your sources of income if you’re applying for SSI.

See what benefits you qualify for instantly. Take our easy eligibility quiz.

Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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