Chronic Pain and Social Security Disability

Chronic pain can result from many conditions, including back injuries, arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia or migraine headaches, to name a few. These cases are often difficult to prove because pain is subjective. What is severe pain to me may only be moderate pain to you. There is no medical test to measure the amount of pain a person feels. Let’s look at how can you win a disability case based on chronic pain.

Medically Determinable Impairment 

In order to be considered disabled as a result of chronic pain there must be a medically determinable impairment responsible for it. This means that you must have medical records showing a diagnosed condition that is expected to cause pain. A medically determinable impairment is demonstrated by offering objective medical evidence, including diagnoses and tests. Thus, complaints of pain without any supporting evidence will result in a finding that you are not eligible for disability benefits. Even if a medically determinable impairment does exist to explain your chronic pain, the impairment must also be severe enough to limit your ability to perform work.


Your credibility as a claimant will be extremely important to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in determining whether or not your stated pain should qualify you for disability benefits. The ALJ will hear your testimony regarding your impairment and compare your account to any objective medical documentation that may exist. If there are gaps and differences between the two, your credibility will likely be tarnished.  It is important that you see your treating doctors regularly and let them know how you are feeling and what limitations you still have, even with treatment of your pain. At the hearing you do not want to exaggerate your symptoms. The judge will look very closely at your medical records to see if your complaints are consistent with what you have reported to the doctor. Accuracy and clarity in your descriptions of your symptoms are crucial to your case.

At the Hearing

You must be able to give detailed, convincing testimony that illustrates the extent of your impairments and especially any pain that you suffer.  You must be prepared to address 3 aspects of your pain:

  1. Describing Your Pain
  • What is the type, the location and the intensity level of your pain? On a scale of one to ten, with ten being pain that is unbearable and one being no pain at all, where would you place your pain most of the time?; at its worst?; at its best?
  • When did you first notice this pain and what was the cause?
  • When something touches the area, is it sore?
  • Is the pain constant or does it come and go? If it comes and goes, how often do you have pain?
  • What activities set off or worsen your pain and what do you do to ease it?
  • Does the pain travel? If it is joint pain, can you move the joint?
  • Are you experiencing sudden spasms? Numbness? Tingling?

2.  Treating Your Pain

  • How effective and frequent are your doctor visits?
  • Are you on medication, and is it helping? Are there any side effects that you experience?
  • Are you using or have you tried alternative medical care or home remedies? What types, and have they helped?
  • Will a change in position or motion bring you relief?

       3.  Living Your Life

  • Does your pain prevent you from performing daily tasks or pastimes?
  • Do you need equipment or adaptive modifications?
  • Is your mental outlook affected? How?
  • Has it impaired you on the job? How?

If you are unable to work because of severe pain, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits. For more information about Social Security disability please visit the rest of this website. Or call my office at 800-218-7062.