Can You Get Disability if a Laminectomy or Discectomy Doesn't Cure Your Back Pain?

When laminectomy or discectomy fails to relieve the patient's symptoms, Social Security disability benefits may be available.

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Question

I had a discectomy and laminectomy eight months ago and haven't been able to go back to work as I had hoped. I still have a great deal of pain and I feel my legs have gotten weaker since the surgery, making it hard for me to walk long distances. Can I get disability benefits?

Answer

Laminectomy and discectomy are surgical procedures that are often used to relieve spinal stenosis by enlarging the spinal canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord caused by a herniated or bulging disc. Often the surgical procedures are used together, as the laminectomy creates an access point to the intervertebral disc. Once the access point has been created, a discectomy is performed to reshape or remove the damaged spinal disc. A laminectomy can also be used to remove bone spurs.

The prognosis for an individual who has a discectomy, with or without the laminectomy, is usually good with proper care and treatment, but these procedures don't always produce the desired result. Sometimes laminectomy or discectomy will fail to relieve the patient's symptoms, and in rare cases, can even cause permanent damage to the spinal nerve or recurrent disc herniation.

In some of these cases, the patient will remain or become unable to work for a long period, or permanently, following laminectomy and/or discectomy. Social Security disability benefits may be available in these circumstances, depending on the severity of the patient's symptoms and the likelihood that the impairment will improve. Social Security evaluates complications from all back surgeries in the same way; for more information, see our article on getting disability benefits following back surgery or spinal fusion.

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