If you experienced a back injury during active duty, or an injury that later contributed to back pain, you may be eligible for disability benefits. As with most medical conditions, the VA disability rating for back pain depends on a variety of factors. This guide will break down how the VA rates back pain and spinal disabilities, so you can take the first steps toward making a claim.
How VA Rates Back Pain Disability
VA disability ratings for back pain go from 10% to 100% depending on how severe your symptoms are, including your range of motion and pain frequency and level. Claims involving both the cervical spine and the thoracolumbar spine are rated under the same general rating formula.
Below we’re sharing the VA range of motion chart used to rate back pain for disability purposes. Keep in mind that for both, the more medical records or medical evidence that you have, the better chances you receive compensation and pension.
Range of Motion Chart for Back Disability VA uses
VA Rating Table for Back Pain
The general rating formula that is used to rate the conditions listed above is mainly based on range of motion (ROM) measurements. The cervical spine (neck) and the thoracolumbar spine (low back) are rated according to the following criteria:
As you can see, Range of Motion measurements plays a significant role in rating spinal conditions. Because the rating formula is almost entirely based on the VA’s range of motion chart and measurements, it’s important to make sure that a doctor performs a range of motion testing according to the VA’s chart as accurately as possible.
Also, the VA requires that all range of motion measurements be taken with a goniometer. If a doctor doesn’t use a goniometer to measure your range of motion, the VA will not consider the results.
In addition to the range of motion measurements, the general rating criteria for spinal involve whether the cervical and/or thoracolumbar spine is frozen in a favorable vs. unfavorable position.
A favorable position means the range of motion measurement for flexion or extension is 0 degrees. Unfavorable means any position that is not 0 degrees in flexion or extension.
Secondary Conditions Related to Back Pain
Oftentimes, spinal conditions will cause other disabling conditions in a different body part that could qualify a veteran for an additional rating due to secondary service connection. For example, fractured and/or dislocated vertebrae frequently lead to pain and weakness in the arms, hips, shoulders, etc.
This could also lead to functional loss if the initial condition and pain is severe enough. People with spinal conditions like Degenerative Disc Disease and more also often change how they walk to compensate for the pain which can lead to even more orthopedic problems like issues with knee and hip problems.
Radiculopathy and Back Pain
Spinal conditions are also known to sometimes cause nerve problems. One of the most common conditions secondary to spinal conditions is radiculopathy.
Radiculopathy is caused by compressed nerves in the spine and results in pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness along the nerve. If radiculopathy is caused by a low back condition, the individuals will feel the symptoms in the lower extremities (thigh, calf, foot). If radiculopathy is caused by a neck condition, the symptoms will be felt in the shoulder and can travel down the arm and into the hand.
If your spinal condition results in the development of a new disability or makes an existing disability worse, remember that you may be entitled to secondary service-connection for the new or aggravated disability. These conditions under the secondary rating disabilities would be rated separately from the primary spinal condition.
What to expect at a C&P Exam for Lower Back and Back Pain
The 2010 Global Burden of Disease study reported that low back pain is now the number one cause of years lost to disability worldwide. Veterans that are seeking compensation for a low back disability are limited, most of the time, to a maximum of 40% rating based on the limitation of motion of their spine.
A higher rating is granted only if the thoracolumbar or the entire spine is ankylosed, which occurs when the bones fuse and the joints become stiff, basically, there is no range of motion.
Low back pain has a significant impact on an individual’s ability to work and manage the daily activities of life.
Vertebral fracture or dislocation VA Ratings
These sorts of fractures are under VA diagnostic code 5235. A vertebral fracture occurs when a vertebra becomes compressed due to trauma. Vertebral fractures are common among veteran’s disability claims due to the physical exertion that most active-duty soldiers experience.
Typically, a vertebral fracture results in symptoms such as limited spinal mobility, and standing/walking will make the pain worse while lying down on the back makes the pain better. A vertebral dislocation is when one of the small vertebrae in the neck is displaced following a traumatic injury to the head or neck.
Symptoms of a vertebral dislocation include pain that spread into the shoulder and arms, tingling or numbness in the arm, muscle spasms in the neck, and weakness in the arms. Veterans’ benefits for vertebral fractures can lead to significant VA disability compensation and should not be ignored.
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