Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) refers to a cluster of repetitive stress injuries that cause pain in the neck, shoulders, and arms, as well as numbness in the arms and hands. Many people develop TOS after years of repetitive motions required to perform their job duties, rendering them unable to work.
Unfortunately, getting Social Security Disability (SSD) for TOS can be difficult because the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not specifically list the condition as a pre-approved impairment.
Because TOS is an unlisted disability, you may need the help of a Pittsburgh disability attorney to obtain your benefits. The lawyers at Berger and Green can help you with your case. Call 412-661-1400 today to see if you qualify for disability benefits for TOS.
What are the symptoms and causes of TOS?
TOS typically develops as the result of compression in the nerves or blood vessels between the collar bone and first rib. This disorder may take one of three forms:
- Neurogenic or neurological: This form exhibits compression in the brachial plexus nerve bundle, which controls muscle movement and feeling in the shoulder, arm, and hand.
- Vascular: This form includes compression in the veins or arteries under the collarbone.
- Nonspecific-type: In this type of TOS, normal diagnostic processes cannot identify the specific nature of the pain; however, the pain worsens upon performing specific activities.
The most common TOS symptoms include:
- Tingling and numbness in the hands or arms;
- Pain in the neck, shoulder, or arm;
- Hand grip weakness;
- Skin discoloration in the hand or fingers;
- Swelling in the arm;
- Cold fingers, hand, or arm;
- Arm fatigue upon activity; and
- A throbbing lump near the collarbone.
Although TOS often occurs because of repetitive stress or motion, this condition has other, more common causes. Congenital abnormalities—those present from birth— like bone, muscle, or soft tissue abnormalities can cause this condition. Tumors and osteomyelitis, although uncommon, may also cause TOS.
Most frequently, however, TOS develops after a significant trauma, such as a car accident or a fall. Whiplash and upper limb trauma are strongly correlated with TOS.
How does TOS affect your ability to work?
When this condition develops because of repetitive movements or repetitive stress, the most common mechanics involve carrying heavy loads on the shoulder, reaching above the head, and movements that require pulling the shoulders back and down. Restrictive postures, especially when held for long periods, may also lead to TOS.
Because thoracic outlet pain worsens with movement, doing your work can become incredibly painful. Weakness and lack of dexterity in the hands and arms may render you unable to manually perform tasks you formerly did with ease.
Once TOS advances to this degree, you may be completely disabled. Most patients do not recover sufficiently to return to work without extensive treatment, rest, and rehabilitation. Even then, returning to the same work tasks is likely to trigger a recurrence.
How does the SSA classify TOS?
For the purposes of processing disability claims, the SSA publishes a list of conditions and diagnoses, called the Blue Book, which may qualify a patient for disability.
If you wish to apply for disability for a listed condition, SSA evaluators compare your medical records against the standards set forth in the Blue Book. If, like TOS, the condition is not listed, you will have to provide documentation proving that your condition is so severe it prevents you from working.
The primary reason that TOS is not a listed condition is that a variety of factors can cause the impairment, including those that are not work-related. If your claim does not adequately prove that your condition prevents you from performing specific workplace activities, the SSA will not approve your disability claim.
Our disability lawyers can help you determine if your condition may qualify for disability benefits. Contact us today for help.
How do you qualify for disability?
If your TOS has kept you from working for 12 months or more, you should apply for disability benefits. To obtain an approval for your claim, however, your supporting medical records and documentation must demonstrate clear evidence of your disability.
As is the case with many pain disorders, TOS presents a complex diagnostic challenge for doctors and medical professionals. It is difficult to objectively prove that a patient is experiencing pain. Consequently, proving that you are disabled due to TOS may present a challenge.
Finding a doctor who understands this condition and its disabling potential is critical. To provide reliable justification to the SSA, you may need to see an orthopedic or nerve specialist. Diagnostic records for your claim may require x-rays, nerve conduction tests, angiography of the involved arteries, venography of the veins, and other imaging tests.
Your doctor must prepare appropriate supporting documentation for the SSA, including test results, lab reports, treatment plans, and a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment. The RFC assessment details exactly how and to what extent your TOS prevents you from performing specific work tasks.
The SSA will use this information to decide whether your condition is sufficient to prevent you from working.
It can be difficult to qualify for disability benefits with an unlisted condition like TOS. Contact our lawyers before you apply for a free case evaluation.
How can a Pittsburgh disability lawyer help with your claim?
Our lawyers are familiar with the disability claim process and can help you navigate the SSA’s complicated procedures.
We can also strengthen your claim by helping you to prepare your claim forms. If you choose to submit your SSA disability claim yourself, you run a higher risk of having your claim denied. We understand the complex disability claims process and know what the SSA looks for. For an unlisted condition like TOS, this is especially important.
The application itself requires one to two hours for completion, if you have gathered all of the necessary backup documentation. We can help the SSA gather the necessary evidence and help you submit your application. And, in the event you must appeal an unfavorable decision, we can assist you during the appeal process.
At Berger and Green, we provide free case evaluations and do not require attorney’s fees until your claim is resolved. Call us today at 412-661-1400 to schedule your appointment to discuss getting disability for TOS.