A great number of Social Security Disability claimants who use our services have a component of “degenerative disc disease” as part of their disability claim. Although this particular problem can occur in the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar spine, we usually see it predominantly in the lower, or lumbar spine in most of our clients. This may be due, at least in part, to the fact that the lower spine is subject to considerably more pressure, use and trauma during a person’s life.
A disc acts as a soft “spacer” between the vertebrae to cushion impact and allow flexibility. Conceptually, it is something like a jelly donut, with the disc material being the jelly and the outer material holding the jelly in place between the vertebrae being called the “annulus”.
Disc material itself does not have a blood supply so it can’t repair itself. The disc can be injured or simply start to wear out from many causes including the wear and tear of life. It’s not unusual for people of a rather young age to develop degenerative disc disease which usually progresses.
The pain one experiences from degenerative disc disease can be from inflammation, injury or instability and this can allow the vertebrae to move more than normal. Many times people will call this a “slipped disc.” Pain can be felt in the back itself or can radiate.
When we represent disability clients with degenerative disc disease, one of the first things we review is whether current diagnostic medical tests clearly define the nature and extent of the degenerative disc disease and its effect on the individual. The tests most commonly used to evaluate this problem are MRIs, CAT scans and EMGs. For disability purposes, it is our job not only to document the existence of a significant condition such as “degenerative disc disease” but also to prove its symptoms are of such a severity to preclude employment.