Common Secondary Conditions to Back Pain
Back conditions are one of the most common medical complaints that the Department of Veterans Affairs sees. This is in part due to the strenuous nature of training and daily duties while in active duty, but also due to greater propensity for misuse, accidents, and danger in the military service versus civilian life. As a result, we see many VA Disability claims that include back pain or back problems. Back problems themselves cause enough issues with daily and functional living, however as many veterans have discovered, back conditions also commonly lead to a slew of secondary medical conditions or complications. A few examples of these secondary conditions or complications are radiculopathy, myelopathy, urinary incontinence and/or frequency along with mental health conditions as well. There are some good news however because veterans may be eligible to receive disability compensation for conditions the VA recognizes as a secondary due to your service-connected back condition. We will discuss this below for your VA claims.
Secondary Service Connection for Medical Issues Related to Back Problems
Radiculopathy is a medical condition in which the nerves are compressed or irritated in the lower back. This results in pressure on the nerve roots themselves. Radiculopathy is classified as a pain syndrome and can be caused by several lower back conditions such as lumbar disc herniation, degenerative disc disease, and spinal stenosis. Symptoms of radiculopathy include radiation of pain from the lower back down into the legs, often described as a sharp-shooting, electric pain. Patients also may experience numbness, weakness, or loss of reflexes in the legs. One of the most commonly affected nerves is the sciatic nerve, which causes pain down the back of the thigh into the calf and foot. But keep in mind, it is not unusual for radiculopathy to affect more than one nerve.
Urinary Frequency and/or Incontinence
Urinary frequency or incontinence are typically symptomatic of another underlying condition, however, it is important to know that you can also receive compensation for urinary dysfunction separately. Urinary dysfunctions are issues that often fly under the radar in veterans. In the beginning stages of urinary frequency, you may not notice anything out of the ordinary. However, this condition typically worsens over time, especially if not treated. If you find yourself using the restroom more than usual or experiencing incontinence, it is a good idea to keep a diary of how often you go, any accidents, whether you need to wear absorbent material, and/or how often you must change due to accidents. Veteran with low back conditions such as degenerative disc disease, cauda equina syndrome, lumbago, etc. are often affected by urinary frequency or incontinence.
Myelopathy is the most serious of the conditions that have been mentioned. Myelopathy is a back condition that is caused from a previous trauma or injury. This can develop from a condition such as spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, and in some cases neurologic conditions. In myelopathy, the pressure is placed on the spine itself, as compared to radiculopathy which places pressure on the nerve roots. Myelopathy is often accompanied by radiculopathy, but is a separate condition. It can affect the cervical spine (upper back/neck area), thoracic spine (mid-back), and lumbar spine (low back). Lumbar myelopathy is rare but is worth mentioning due to the severity of the condition. Common side effects of myelopathy include radiculopathy (sharp-shooting pain or radiation), loss of urinary or bowel control, and increased reflexes in the arms or lower extremities (depending on which form of myelopathy you have). This condition is detected by MRI and usually requires surgery.
Due to the nature of back injuries, it is common for other parts of the body or bodily functions to be affected by secondary conditions to back pain. However, it is important to note that your mental health can also be adversely affected. We discuss how chronic pain affects mental health in a different blog. If you have a direct service connection for your back condition and have developed any of these conditions or symptoms of these conditions, you may be entitled to VA benefits due to secondary disability and are entitled to a VA disability rating for the same.
 Alexander CE, Varacallo M. Lumbosacral Radiculopathy. [Updated 2020 Mar 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430837/
 “Myelopathy.” Myelopathy | Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/myelopathy.