Is Scoliosis a Disability? How to Qualify for Benefits
November 1, 2023 · 4 min read
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You can get disability benefits if you are unable to work because of scoliosis. The Social Security Administration (SSA) classifies scoliosis as a disease of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue. In 2021, approximately 34% of disability beneficiaries qualified for benefits due to musculoskeletal system and connective tissue disorders.
If you plan to get on disability for scoliosis, it's important to make sure you understand the SSA qualification requirements for scoliosis. Just like with any condition, it can be hard to get disability benefits for scoliosis, so it is essential to understand the qualifications and the next steps.
What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine to the side. Scoliosis can affect people of all ages, but it most commonly occurs in adolescents during a growth spurt or in older adults with degenerative spinal discs.
There are several types of scoliosis, and the severity of cases can range from mild to disabling. A curvature of the spine more than fifty degrees is severe and can impact the nervous system and internal organs, including the heart and lungs.
4 main types of scoliosis
There are a few main types of scoliosis under which your condition may fall:
Congenital scoliosis: With this type of scoliosis, the condition is present at birth. It's due to the improper formation of spine bones or ribs.
Degenerative scoliosis: The degeneration of spinal discs can cause older adults to have a sideways curvature of the spine.
Idiopathic scoliosis: This is the most common type of scoliosis and develops around the onset of adolescence, usually about age 10, and can worsen with growth.
Neuromuscular scoliosis: This form of scoliosis is generally due to a nervous system issue that impacts the muscles, such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or polio. Because of imbalances or weaknesses in the muscles stemming from these conditions, the spine can begin to develop a curve.
For a more in-depth understanding of different qualifying conditions, check out our main guide on conditions that qualify for disability.
Common scoliosis symptoms
Depending on the severity of the condition, symptoms of scoliosis can include the following:
A visible curve in the spine
Leaning to one side
Shoulder, hip, or ribs sticking out to one side
Unevenness in the shoulders
Is scoliosis a disability?
Yes, the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers scoliosis a disability if your condition prevents you from being able to work. The SSA’s Blue Book, a resource of qualifying medical conditions, does not have a listing for scoliosis. However, the SSA may consider scoliosis under the categories of back pain and orthopedic issues, depending on the nature of the pain.
Can you get disability for scoliosis?
Yes, you can get disability benefits for scoliosis if the symptoms of your condition prevent you from being able to work. Even if your scoliosis is severe, the process of applying for and securing disability benefits is challenging. Applicants must meet strict criteria and provide ample medical documentation, meaning the application process can take months or years.
It can be easier to qualify with scoliosis (or with any condition, for that matter) if you have another qualifying condition. For instance, you might also have the following conditions to include in your application for disability benefits:
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Criteria for getting disability with scoliosis
To get disability for scoliosis, you'll need to demonstrate that your scoliosis is severe enough to prevent you from working and has even led to other spine issues. You'll need to provide evidence that your condition remains severe enough to restrict your ability to work despite receiving treatment and pain management.
Including the following medical evidence in your application can strengthen your case:
Doctor's notes from exams
Medical records detailing how you've responded to treatment
Notes of your own on how your scoliosis impacts you daily
Results from imaging tests
When evaluating your application, the SSA will also consider the following factors:
If your scoliosis prevents you from walking short distances
If your scoliosis causes discomfort when sitting or standing
If you're unable to perform or are limited in your ability to perform basic tasks, such as household chores and the upkeep of personal hygiene, due to your scoliosis
If your scoliosis limits your range of motion
If you've sought treatment from a provider such as a chiropractor, pain management specialist, physical therapist, or spine specialist for your scoliosis
If you've undergone diagnostic testing to confirm your scoliosis
If your scoliosis requires therapy or injections, or the use of assisted devices like braces
If your condition requires surgery and if surgery has already been performed, whether it's impacted your scoliosis and prognosis
5 Questions to ask yourself before applying for disability
Before you apply for disability for scoliosis, it's helpful to consider your likelihood of qualifying for benefits. If you're able to answer "yes" to most of the following questions, then you have a better chance of qualifying:
Have you received a diagnosis of scoliosis and explored different treatment and pain management options?
Does your scoliosis prevent you from being able to perform routine daily activities, such as sitting, standing, or walking?
Is your scoliosis severe enough that you can't work because of it?
Has your scoliosis caused other spinal issues?
Do you have any other qualifying conditions?
My scoliosis meets the criteria. Now what?
If after reviewing the SSA's criteria, you feel confident your scoliosis will qualify, the next step is to apply for disability benefits. If you are unsure about your eligibility, here's some guidance you might take into account to help you decide what to do next:
Apply now if:You have a scoliosis diagnosis and receive treatment, but your symptoms persist and make it impossible for you to work.Your scoliosis is so severe it's caused other documented spinal issues.
Consider waiting and applying later if:You're still working at the moment, even if you think you may need to stop eventually due to your scoliosis.Your scoliosis symptoms are moderate or seem like they're improving with treatment.
Probably don’t apply if:You earn roughly $1,550 per month or more, as this is the income limit for SSDI and SSI as of 2024.Your scoliosis is manageable enough to keep working in some capacity.
SSDI is intended for individuals who have worked and paid taxes, including for at least five out of the last 10 years. SSI, on the other hand, is for people who haven't worked much or at all, and who have low income (around $900 or less per month) and few assets like savings and other property. Both programs include health insurance — Medicare for SSDI and Medicaid for SSI.
The average amount you may expect to receive each month in disability benefits for scoliosis is $1,427.22. There's a chance you could receive more than that for your scoliosis though — the maximum monthly amount you can receive as of 2024 is $3,822 for SSDI and $943 for SSI. These upper limits apply regardless of which condition you apply with and whether you decide to apply with one condition or multiple.
Ultimately, your personal financial factors will help determine how much you receive each month. If you're receiving SSDI, the calculation for monthly benefit amounts will be based on your work history, whereas for SSI, it's determined according to what other sources of income you have. For comparison, here's a look at how much people make on SSDI and SSI.
What if my scoliosis doesn’t meet the criteria?
If your scoliosis doesn't meet the criteria, applying for disability benefits is still an option. You must demonstrate the severity of your case through medical documentation and how your symptoms prevent you from being able to work.
Even those whose scoliosis condition meets the SSA requirements to qualify for disability can anticipate a difficult application process. An estimated 80% of applicants are turned down on their first application attempt. If you choose to appeal after your initial denial, however, your odds improve. Working with a lawyer increases your chances of approval by three times.
Take our 2-minute disability quiz to determine whether you qualify for benefits. A member of our team will reach out with additional information and can pair you with an experienced lawyer if you’d like. There are no upfront costs — you only pay the attorney if they win your case.
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