Social Security Disability: Spotlight on Ankylosing Spondylitis

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People often ask me how “hard” it is to get approved for Social Security Disability benefits if they have this or that specific medical problem. I usually respond by first saying that you don’t have to be found disabled solely on the basis of one problem alone.

If, like many people, you have multiple medical problems that, taken together, combine to prevent you from being able to sustain full time work, the Social Security Administration is supposed to look at how all of your different medical problems affect you in a holistic way. In other words, you don’t have to show that one medical problem by itself is severe enough to disable you, if in fact you have several medical problems, none of which by itself would be disabling, but the combination of which is disabling.

The second thing I often tell people is that you usually can’t get a feel for what your chances of getting approved are just by knowing the diagnosis, because most medical problems can affect people in vastly different ways. One person with a given disease might be able to manage it effectively with medication and lifestyle changes, with minimal interference in her life. Another person might be debilitated by the same illness, unable to even take care of her basic needs. Because of this variation, what is most important is how your medical conditions, and the side effects from any treatments you need for your medical conditions, affect you.

That being said, I’d like to highlight a few specific medical conditions that can be the basis of a Social Security Disability case in a series of short posts.

Although it may sound like the Latin name for a particularly nasty beetle, Ankylosing Spondylitis, sometimes shortened to AS, is a type of chronic inflammatory arthritis that causes long term inflammation in the joints of the vertebra, and sometimes other joints.

Ankylosing Spondylitis is in a group of diseases called spondyloarthritis or spondyloarthropathy, which include Psoriatic Arthritis (Phil Mickelson’s arthritis commercials ring a bell?), juvenile spondyloarthropathy, enteropathic arthritis, and reactive arthritis.

The primary symptoms of AS are back pain and stiffness.

Over time, AS can cause fusion of the bones in the vertebra, starting with the SI joints at the bottom of the spine and sometimes spreading all the way up the spine, resulting in a completely fused spine. Historically this condition has been one cause of a permanently stooped posture, or “humpback.”

Fortunately, newer types of medication, most notably drugs that block a specific type of molecule involved in the inflammatory process called TNFa, have showed promise in slowing or stopping the progressive bony fusion associated with AS. Nonetheless, posture exercises are important for anyone with AS, to preserve good posture should bony fusion occur.

The Spondylitis Association of America, a non-profit organization, has lots of great information about Ankylosing Spondylitis and related diseases.

AS is treated by a rheumatologist, who specializes in arthritic conditions. The chronic pain and stiffness associated with AS can be debilitating and can prevent full time work, and as such can form the basis of a claim for Social Security Disability.

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