Will Social Security Consider a Chiropractor's Opinion for Back Disability?

Social Security will give limited consideration to a chiropractor's opinions and medical notes in determining disability.

People who file for Social Security disability (SSD) or SSI on the basis of back pain are often denied due to a lack of proper medical documentation to back up their claim for disability. One requirement for proper medical documentation is that it comes from an "acceptable medical source."

Acceptable Medical Sources

Patients who have a back condition often seek treatment from chiropractors rather than physicians (MDs), sometimes after their treating physician informs them that there is no conventional treatment available that will significantly improve their condition. While patients sometimes gain relief from chiropractic visits, it won't usually help their disability claim.

Social Security's rules do not recognize chiropractors as legitimate sources of medical treatment and medical opinions. Disability examiners, who make decisions on initial disability applications and reconsideration appeals for Social Security, and administrative law judges (ALJs) do not need to consider the opinions of chiropractors when deciding if a disability applicant has a severe "medically determinable" impairment. This means that the Social Security Administration (SSA) will typically not give any credence to a diagnosis or opinion on disability from a chiropractor.

That said, examiners and ALJS should consider the opinion of a chiropractor when they evaluates the severityof an applicant's impairment and its effect on the applicant. In addition, examiners and ALJs will review imaging studies ordered by chiropractors, such as x-rays. Examiners and ALJs, however, are not required to explain how they assessed evidence from a chiropractor and whether they gave it any weight.

Consultative Exams

In cases in which a disability applicant's primary source of medical treatment has been a chiropractor, the disability examiner (or Social Security judge, if the claim is at appeal) may order the applicant to attend a consultative exam (CE). Consultative exams are what most people think of as a "Social Security medical exam" and are performed by independent doctors hired by Social Security to provide medical opinions for disability claims. The exams are brief, and are often not used as a basis for the approval of a claim. Instead, the exams are sometimes just a formality that must be satisfied before the examiner can close a case; that is, a CE is a means to gather recent medical evidence to deny a claim. Most physical CEs last no more than 20 minutes.

Learn more about consultative exams.

Schedule a Doctor's Visit

If you are suffering from a painful back condition that is beginning to compromise your ability to perform your job and the possibility of filing for disability exists, it would be wise to schedule and keep regular appointments with your treating physician. Ask that the physician include in his or her notes information regarding your functional limitations, specifically actions that you now have difficulty performing as a result of your condition.

Your Residual Functional Capacity

At some point you should ask your doctor (not your chiropractor) to fill out a residual functional capacity (RFC) form, which is usually in the form of a check-off list of normal daily activities that you can or cannot perform, and the degree to which you can engage in them. RFC forms will often ask the doctor to rate your ability to sit, stand, and lift, as well as inquire about your reflexes and range of motion (free RFC forms can be downloaded from this site and can be found at the bottom of the homepage).

Learn more about residual functional capacity.

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