How the SSA Evaluates Pain Testimony

By April 21, 2016 English Blogs

social security disability formWhen you file a claim for Social Security disability benefits, you will be expected to provide statements regarding any symptoms of pain that you are experiencing.  You will be asked about the location of pain, how long it lasts, what causes the pain, whether it can be effectively treated by medication, the frequency of pain, and other factors.  You may also need to testify about your pain at a disability hearing before an administrative law judge.


A key issue in Social Security disability cases is whether the Social Security Administration will accept or reject your pain allegations.  This article by Lowell Social Security disability benefits attorney Gerard Palma will address how the Social Security Administration handles allegations of pain when reviewing your claim for Social Security disability benefits.


Symptoms of Pain and Your Residual Functional Capacity

Social Security regulations and rulings state that symptoms of pain must be considered when determining a person’s residual functional capacity (RFC).  Your residual functional capacity is a summary of the physical and mental activities you could be expected to perform during a standard eight-hour workday.  These activities include the ability to lift and carry weight, stand, walk, sit, reach, stoop, kneel, use your hands, understand and remember simple to complex instructions, concentrate on tasks, deal with changes in a work environment, and work with supervisors, coworkers, and the public.  Your RFC is based on all the evidence in your disability case record.  The residual functional capacity assessment is important because it will be used to decide whether you can perform your past work, and whether there is any other work present in significant numbers in the national economy that you can perform.  Generally, if the Social Security Administration finds there are no jobs you can perform based on your RFC, then you will be found disabled and given Social Security disability benefits.


If you are alleging a high level of pain, then that will affect what activities you can perform in your RFC. For example, if you have been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, you may have frequent pain when doing tasks involving fine fingering.  An inability to perform fine fingering during most of a workday may prevent you from performing your past work, and it could substantially reduce the number of jobs available in the national economy that you could perform.  In addition, if your pain level affects your ability to perform mental tasks and deal with routine changes in a work environment, then the number of jobs you could perform would also be greatly reduced.


How the SSA Evaluates Your Pain Testimony

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will not give much weight to your allegations of pain unless 1) you have a diagnosed medical condition (a medically determinable impairment) which could reasonably be expected to produce pain, and (2) the intensity and frequency of your symptoms of pain are consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence in your case record.


Following is evidence in your case record which the Social Security Administration will consider when evaluating your statements regarding pain:


  • Abnormal medical signs and laboratory findings that support your level of pain. These findings will vary based on your medical condition.  For instance, you may have physical and mental examinations demonstrating a reduced range of motion, muscle spasms, decreased grip strength, wasted or loss of muscle, a positive straight leg test, or difficulty following a 3-step instruction.
  • Medical opinions from your treating doctor or an examining doctor. These statements should describe the onset and frequency of the pain symptoms, the location, whether the pain has changed over a period of time, whether any medication helps to reduce the level of pain, how long the doctor has treated the individual, and how the pain limits the individual.
  • Witness statements. These statements should state how long the witness has known the individual filing for disability benefits, and whether he or she has seen a change in the individual’s ability to perform activities because of individual’s pain level.
  • Activities of daily living. The SSA will consider whether there are any inconsistencies between your alleged pain and your reported activities of daily living.
  • Whether you have sought medical help for your symptoms of pain and whether you have complied with all medical treatment.


If the Social Security Administration decides to reject any of your statements regarding your symptoms of pain, it must give specific reasons explaining why it rejected your testimony.  A new Social Security Ruling issued in March 2016, SSR 16-3p, cautions that the SSA cannot evaluate your credibility or truthfulness in the same manner as in adversarial court litigation.  Rather, the adjudicator should concentrate on evidence in the case record which relates to an individual’s medically determinable impairment.


If you have been denied Social Security disability benefits, Lowell Social Security disability benefits attorney Gerard Palma can review and evaluate the denial.  888-295-4955.

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