Sciatica is often mild but in some cases, it can be severe enough to keep you from working. In 2021, about 2.7 million workers received monthly disability benefits and healthcare for sciatica and similar musculoskeletal diseases.
To help you qualify, we’ll walk you through how the Social Security Administration (SSA) defines sciatica, when it can qualify for you for benefits, and how to apply if your sciatica meets the criteria.
Sciatica can be considered a disability by the SSA if it’s severe enough to interfere with your ability to work, but it often isn’t severe enough on its own. That said, it may be possible to qualify for Social Security disability benefits if you experience other conditions because of or alongside your sciatica.
People with sciatica have a compressed spinal nerve that causes pain in the back, hip, and outer leg. Though sciatica can be mild and resolve on its own, it can trigger more severe symptoms. The SSA looks for the more advanced signs of sciatica, like difficulty walking or moving and difficulty controlling your bladder or bowels.
There are four types of sciatica that are defined based on how you experience nerve pain:
Yes, you can get disability benefits for sciatica in certain cases. To qualify, you’ll need medical documentation that shows the severity of your symptoms. Mild sciatica doesn’t always qualify because the SSA generally holds that someone can continue working while managing their condition. You’re more likely to qualify if you experience sciatica in addition to another qualifying health condition.
Though providing extensive medical evidence is the best way to get approved, working with an experienced disability lawyer will also increase your odds of approval. Applicants with lawyers are three times more likely to get approved for benefits.
Qualifying for disability is challenging. The SSA has extensive criteria for sciatica, and many people with mild sciatica won’t qualify. If your sciatica is mild or you’ve suffered a flare-up after an injury and missed work, consider seeking short-term disability through workers’ comp instead.
Before you apply, consider whether or not your sciatica meets the three conditions listed below. If possible, you should also look to get imaging results — MRI, X-ray, CT scan, or EMG — showing nerve compromise due to your sciatica.
1. You have one or more of the following symptoms radiating from your back or hips:
2. You experience the following; they’re present during a physical exam or diagnostic test; and you have medical evidence of the first two symptoms below in addition to either the third or fourth:
3. You experience limited movement lasting or expected to last at least 12 consecutive months, and you have medical documentation of at least one of the following:
The SSA may reward you with disability benefits if you can answer yes to most of the following:
If your sciatica meets the SSA’s criteria, you’re ready to apply for disability benefits. You can apply even if you’re questioning whether or not your sciatica will qualify, but the application is long and may not be worth the time and effort if you don’t think you’re likely to qualify. Here’s our advice:
Apply now if:
Consider waiting and applying later if:
Probably don’t apply if:
You can also find out whether or not you’ll qualify with our free 2-minute disability quiz. If you do qualify, we can match you with a disability lawyer who can work to increase your odds of approval. (You’ll only pay them if you get approved for benefits.)
You can apply for two different benefits programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If you’ve worked at least five of the last 10 years, you likely meet the qualifications for SSDI. You’ll receive higher benefit payments through SSDI and you’ll be enrolled in Medicare. If you haven’t worked much in recent years and if you have little to no monthly income or assets, you may qualify for SSI. SSI offers monthly payments of up to $914 in 2023 plus Medicaid.
SSDI and SSI share an application, so you can also apply for both. Some applicants even qualify to receive both at the same time.
People with sciatica and other musculoskeletal disorders receive an average monthly check of $1,450.61. Your actual check size may vary depending on your work and income history. Regardless of your condition, the maximum benefit for SSDI is about $3,600 per month, while SSI offers a maximum monthly benefit of $914 in 2023.
Learn more about how much you can make from disability benefits.
If you don’t think your sciatica meets the criteria, you can still apply. There’s no penalty for applying and it may still be worth it if you can’t work because of your sciatica.
The reality is that even if you do meet the criteria, qualifying for Social Security disability benefits is difficult. Only 20% of applicants get approved on their first try. But we almost always recommend that you appeal that decision. More than 50% of applicants got approved after they appealed their case in front of a judge in 2022.
You can also get even more tips on the application process with our step-by-step guide to applying for disability. Also check out our helpful resources for people with disabilities if you need financial assistance, legal assistance, or help affording food and housing while you apply.
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