Social Security Disability for RSD or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

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Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), a form of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), usually results from an injury, disease, or even surgery to a limb (arm or leg). RSD and CRPS are characterized by severe but unusual pain in the affected limb, which sometimes spreads to the other limb. RSD/CRPS is thought to be a dysfunction of the sympathetic nervous system (which regulates our involuntary physiological responses to stressful stimuli). Other characteristics of the disorder include the following symptoms in the affected limb:

  • swelling
  • changes in skin color or texture
  • decreased or excessive sweating
  • skin temperature changes
  • abnormal hair or nail growth 
  • osteoporosis, and
  • involuntary movements of the affected region of the initial injury.

RSD and CRPS Can Be Disabling

Because of the pain and discomfort, RSD/CRPS sufferers may become unable to use the limb. If the condition spreads to another limb, or causes muscle wasting or muscle contracture, a person with RSD/CRPS may have a condition that is just as disabling as joint impairments that cause someone to lose the use of the arms or legs. 

While Social Security does not list RSD or CRPS in its list of impairments, but when their effects are severe, they can be compared to a musculoskeletal disorder that limits the use of the limbs (arms or legs). Disorders of major joints that lead to ineffective walking or use of the hands qualify for disability benefits under the musculoskeletal listings.

Requirements for Disability

First, Social Security must find that your RSD or CRPS is a "medically determinable impairment," meaning that, in addition to your subjective complaints of pain, there is objective evidence that your pain comes from a medical condition. For instance, does the limb sweat profusely, change color or temperature, or have abnormal hair or nail growth? Your doctor needs to make a record of these findings, as well as measurements of your muscle strength and flexibility.

Next, Social Security will assess how your symptoms keep you from working. As a recent court case and ruling state, the agency is required to consider how your pain affects your abilities if it considers your complaints credible. Social Security will assess your residual functional capacity (RFC), which says what level of physical work you can do, if any, and then use your RFC to determine if you are disabled.

If you are able to demonstrate the necessary symptoms, and the Social Security believes your statements that your RSD or CRPS makes it impossible for you to work, you may be eligible to get Social Security disability compensation. For more information, or to get advice regarding your disability claim, talk to a Social Security disability attorney.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. If you need legal advice or representation,
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