Pain as the basis for an award of Social Security disability benefits

A large percentage of my Indianapolis disability clients suffer with pain. Pain is a common symptom of many medical impairments, and it can severely limit a person’s ability to function on a daily basis. It can be difficult, however, to convince the Social Security Administration that your pain is disabling because of the subjective nature of pain. No one, other than you, knows the true extent of your pain; no medical test can accurately or conclusively quantify your pain.

To determine whether pain supports an award of Social Security disability benefits, the Social Security Administration engages in a two-tiered analysis, which seeks to answer these questions:

  1. Does the “objective medical evidence” demonstrate that you have a medically determinable impairment which could reasonably be expected to produce pain?
  2. Does “all the available evidence” in your case support your claims regarding the intensity and persistence of your pain, and the extent to which your pain limits your ability to work?

Objective medical evidence of pain

The first step in the Social Security Administration’s pain analysis is a review of the objective medical evidence. Objective medical evidence consists of “medical signs and laboratory findings, established by medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques”; it is the type of evidence that can be reliably documented and is typically found in medical records. In general, if you have been diagnosed with a physical, psychological or anatomical impairment that could be expected to cause pain, and your diagnosis is supported by objective medical evidence (e.g., a physical examination, blood test, EKG, x-ray), this is sufficient evidence of the fact that you have pain. The Social Security Administration will then expand its inquiry to consider the nature of your pain, including the intensity and persistence of your pain.

All the available evidence related to pain

The Social Security Administration will consider “all the available evidence” in evaluating the intensity and persistence of your pain. “All the available evidence” means the objective medical evidence plus any other evidence related to:

(1) Your daily activities;
(2) The location, duration, frequency and intensity of your pain;
(3) The type, dosage, effectiveness and side-effects of medication you take to alleviate the pain;
(4) Your treatments and other measures you engage in to relieve the pain, aside from medication; and
(5) Your functional limitations and restrictions caused by the pain.

This evidence may come from statements made by you, your treating doctors or others familiar with your case. The Social Security decision-maker must consider any pain-related limitations and restrictions that are reasonably consistent with all the available evidence in determining whether you are “under a disability” and entitled to receive Social Security disability benefits.