Scoliosis is an abnormal curve in the spin that can cause your spine to have a “C” or “S” shape. The severity of scoliosis can vary greatly by person. Some individuals may suffer little effects from their scoliosis, while others may suffer breathing problems, persistent back pain, or spine or nerve damage from spinal surgery or uncorrected scoliosis. Depending on the severity of the scoliosis, treatment can range from regular doctors appointments to ensure there are no changes in the curve in your spine to requiring surgery to insert metal poles in your spine to straighten it.
Only the more severe cases of scoliosis (or kyphosis and kyphoscoliosis) will qualify for Social Security disability benefits. There are two ways you can qualify for disability benefits. First, you can meet the requirements of a disability listing that is set out in Social Security's listing of impairments (called the blue book). Second, you can show that you are unable to return to work because of your limitations.
Qualifying Under a Disability Listing
While scoliosis is not a disease that has its own listing in the Social Security blue book, Social Security notes that if the scoliosis causes severe enough problems with the spine, you may meet the requirements of the disorders of the spine listing. In addition, if your scoliosis is so severe that it affects your breathing or heart, you could qualify for disability under the listings for respiratory disorders or cardiovascular disorders. (Scoliosis affects more adults than most people would think; Scoliosis Can Hit Well Past Adolescence is a good first-hand account for more education about the spine condition.)
Section 1.04: Disorders of the Spine
To qualify as disabled under this listing, you must have one of the following:
- nerve root compression that causes pain, muscle weakness, and/or limits your ability to move your legs
- inflammation of the membrane surrounding the spine that causes pain that requires you to change your position more than once every two hours, or
- narrowing of the spine that causes chronic pain and weakness and limits your ability to walk.
To learn the criteria for disability for these conditions, visit our articles at the above links.
Medical Evidence Required
Medical evidence that can be used to prove the above spinal disorders include:
- medical imaging, such as x-rays, MRIs, and CAT Scans
- physical examination with detailed description of limitations, and
- records of ongoing treatment that shows that the impairment is not getting better despite therapy to improve it.
Other Disability Listings
There are also many other body systems that can be affected by scoliosis. Severe scoliosis can affect your ability to breath, your heart function, and your mental health due to visible deformities or chronic pain. Listings that may apply to scoliosis include:
For information on qualifying for disability for problems affecting these areas, visit our articles at the above links.
Your Ability to Work
If Social Security doesn't find you disabled under one of Social Security's disability listings, you may be eligible for disability benefits if you are found to not be able to return to work because of your limitations. Social Security will assess your physical, mental, and sensory limitations using a "residual functional capacity" (RFC) form to determine if you there is any type of work you can do. Then, using a formula, Social Security will evaluate your ability to work any job based on your age, education, and work experience.
For those with scoliosis, the biggest limitation to returning to work is physical limitations. Beyond having limited abilities to walk and stand, other physical requirements, such lifting, carrying, pushing, or pulling items, may be impossible for an individual with scoliosis due to back pain and strength limitations. Mental impairments, such as isolation or depression, may also make a return to work impossible. For more information on how you can win disability benefits with your RFC, see our section on how Social Security decides if you can work.