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  • Christopher Le

Social Security Disability or SSI for Shoulder Problems

There are many different kinds of shoulder problems that people can suffer from, and the disabling effects vary based on the kind of shoulder problem. If the shoulder impairments are severe enough, an individual may qualify for Social Security Disability (SSD or SSI) benefits.

The Types of Common Disabling Shoulder Issues

Dislocation- The shoulder bones make a ball and socket joint; dislocations occur when the bone is either partially or fully removed from the socket. Dislocations can lead to tears and stretching in the ligaments or tendons of the shoulder and can also cause bone damage and/or nerve damage.

Separation- Separation of the shoulder occurs when the clavicle (collar bone) separates from the scapula (shoulder blade). This is most often caused by a tear in the ligaments that hold the shoulder together.

Tendinitis and Bursitis- Tendinitis is the swelling of a tendon, while bursitis is the swelling of the bursa sacs. Symptoms of tendinitis in the shoulder include pain in the upper arm and shoulder that comes on slowly, as well as pain when lifting your arm away from your body or over your head.

Torn Rotator Cuff- Rotator cuff tendons are the muscles used to lift your arm over your head and lift heavy objects. Torn rotator cuffs are a very common shoulder injury and can be caused by the normal wear and tear. If you are experiencing significant pain, its best to consult with a doctor for an MRI to confirm whether you suffer from a rotator cuff tear.

Frozen Shoulder- Frozen shoulder occurs when the movement in your shoulder is significantly limited due to the growth of tissue between the joints. Many times, frozen shoulder develops when there is non use of that arm or shoulder. Its advised by many doctors that even if you suffer from severe pain, you should try to do some home therapy so that you will still have some kind of mobility in your arm and shoulder. If you fail to perform home exercises, this could lead to frozen shoulder.

Shoulder Fracture- Breaks or cracks in the shoulder generally occur in the clavicle aka shoulder blade, or the very top of the humerus, the bone in the upper arm that connects to the shoulder. If not properly cared for and treated, it could lead to incorrect healing and arthritis.

Arthritis- Arthritis can affect the joints as well as the surrounding muscles and tendons. Many times arthritis comes about due to age, but other times arthritis can develop a lot sooner after a severe injury. Arthritis can limit the use of your shoulder and cause severe constant pain.

Treatment for Shoulder Injuries

Shoulder problems are diagnosed in three stages.

  • A medical history is taken that details a patients subjective complaints

  • A physical examination is then performed to determine physical limitations, range of motion measurements, pain levels, atrophy, and nerve damage.

  • Diagnostic studies are done to confirm shoulder problems. These studies generall include x-rays, ultrasounds, and MRIs.

Immobilization of the shoulder is most appropriate with many shoulder injuries. Placing it in a sling or cast, rest, ice, pain medications, medications to control swelling, and physical therapy are commonly used treatments to control pain and to heal the shoulder. If conservative care fails, surgery may be needed to fix the problem.

Disability for Shoulder Problems

There are generally 2 ways for an individual to qualify for disability benefits. SSA will either look at whether an individual meets or equals a listing or they will review the individuals residual functional capacity to determine their ability to return to work.

Meeting or Equaling a Disability Listing for a Shoulder Injury or Impairment

Shoulder problems are not covered by a specific impairment listing for shoulders, but it may fall under Listing 1.02: Major dysfunction of a joint. Meeting a listing is not easy. There is strict criteria that must be met. In order to meet this listing, you must have one of the following conditions that causes chronic pain and limits your ability to use your arm(s):

  • partial shoulder dislocation

  • partial or full fusing of the shoulder joints caused by growing of tissue between the joints, or

  • shoulder instability due to continuous dislocations, shoulder separations, or weakness in the shoulder.

In addition, there must be medical evidence of fusing of the joints, destruction of the bones, or narrowing of the space between the joints. Medical records documenting these findings are crucial. If you do not meet this criteria, you may be eligible under the no ability to return to work criteria discussed below.

Not Being Able to Return to Work

If your shoulder problems do not meet or equal a listing, it's possible to receive social security disability benefits based on your inability to return to any type of work. Of course you have to show medical evidence that your shoulder problems prevent you from doing any kind of work in the national economy.

In determining whether you can return to any type of work, Social Security will need to assess your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). An RFC assesses your physical limitations. In addition, your age, education, and work experience, are also considered in determining whether you can return to any kind of job. If all you've known is hard labor work, and you never acquired any other skills that can transfer to a sit down job or a light duty job, then you may qualify to receive social security disability benefits.

For those with shoulder problems, the physical demands of working may not be possible. That is because many jobs require lifting, carrying, pushing, or pulling. And with significant shoulder problems, an individual may not find it possible to do any kind of work due to limited shoulder range of motion or chronic severe pain. Even sedentary jobs, aka sit down jobs, can be difficult since they normally require arm movements such as typing or picking up a phone. In addition, severe shoulder pain can affect a person’s ability to concentrate on tasks at hand, which would render someone to be considered "off task". If off task enough throughout the work day, a person may be deemed unemployable.

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