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.
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Range of Motion Chart for Back Disability VA Uses
VA Rating Table for Back Pain
Understanding Your VA Rating for Back and Neck Pain
If you were talking to a VA medical examiner about your back and neck pain, they might explain the VA rating system for back pain like this:
When assessing your pain and mobility issues, the medical examiner looks at two main parts of your spine: the bigger part of your back (thoracolumbar spine) and your neck (cervical spine).
Both these areas are examined separately, and a rating is determined based on how much it affects you.
Main Part of the Back (Thoracolumbar Spine)
- 50% Rating: Think of your entire back being stuck in a position that’s not comfortable.
- 40% Rating: Your back might be stuck, but it’s in a position that’s more comfortable. Alternatively, you might be able to bend forward just a tiny amount, say, less than the width of a ruler.
- 20% Rating: You can bend forward between the width of a ruler and about two hand lengths. If all the ways you can move your back are quite limited, this might be your rating.
- 10% Rating: Your back has some flexibility, allowing you to bend about 3 hand lengths forward. Or if your overall movement is in the mid-range, this could be your rating.
Your Neck (Cervical Spine)
- 40% Rating: Your entire neck is stuck in a position that’s not comfortable. If this combines with your back also being stuck in a similar way, it could lead to a full 100% rating.
- 30% Rating: Your neck is stuck, but in a more comfortable position. Or, you might be able to tilt your head forward just a tiny bit.
- 20% Rating: You can tilt your head forward between a tiny bit and about the width of your hand. If all your neck movements are quite restricted, this might be your rating.
- 10% Rating: You have more flexibility in your neck, allowing you to move your head forward about the width of a hand to a hand and a half. If your overall neck movement is in the mid-range, this could be your rating.
When a VA medical examiner looks at your back and neck pain, they mainly focus on how much you can move – this is called “Range of Motion” or ROM.
Both your neck (cervical spine) and your lower back (thoracolumbar spine) are checked to see how much they can move.
These movements are super important in deciding your VA rating.
To measure your movement accurately, doctors need to use a special tool called a goniometer.
If they don’t use this tool, the VA won’t use the results.
So, it’s important that when you get checked, the doctor uses the goniometer correctly.
Also, the medical examiner looks to see if your neck and back are stuck in a certain position.
A “favorable” position means it’s stuck straight (0 degrees), and “unfavorable” means it’s stuck in any other way.
Interested in filing for back pain benefits but have been denied? Contact us today!
How do I get 100% for Back Pain?
When we discuss a 100% VA disability rating for back issues, it’s crucial to understand what is meant by the term “entire spine.”
This refers to both your lower/middle back, known as the thoracolumbar spine, and your neck, termed the cervical spine.
If even one section has some movement, you won’t qualify for the 100% rating.
By “frozen,” it’s indicated that your back essentially doesn’t move at all.
An “unfavorable position” means your back is stuck in a bent or curved manner.
If it’s in a straight position, which is 0 degrees, it’s considered “favorable.”
Achieving a rating of this nature is quite challenging, given the severity of disability it represents.
Many veterans who secure this rating often combine other conditions with their back pain or are recognized as fully disabled due to their inability to work, known as TDIU.
Secondary Conditions Related to Back Pain
Back problems don’t just stop at pain; they can sometimes lead to other physical ailments, potentially resulting in additional ratings.
For instance, conditions like fractured or dislocated bones in the back might result in pain and weakness in areas like the arms, hips, and shoulders.
Some diseases, like Degenerative Disc Disease, can force individuals to alter their walking patterns to alleviate pain.
This adaptation might give rise to further orthopedic concerns, such as problems with the knees and hips.
A significant issue associated with back problems is radiculopathy.
When the nerves in the spine get pinched or compressed, it leads to symptoms such as pain, numbness, or tingling.
If the root cause is a condition in the lower back, the symptoms manifest in the leg and foot.
Conversely, if it stems from a neck-related condition, the discomfort extends from the shoulder down the arm, sometimes reaching the hand.
It’s essential to remember that if your primary spinal condition triggers a secondary ailment or exacerbates an existing one, you might qualify for an additional VA rating.
This new rating stands distinct from the primary assessment of the back issue.
TDIU Benefits for Veterans with Back Pain
TDIU, or Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability, is a benefit provided by the VA for veterans who cannot work due to their service-related disabilities.
For those with significant back pain, this can be a lifeline.
While back pain on its own might not qualify for a 100% disability rating, the functional loss and limitations can be severe enough to prevent steady employment.
Veterans might find themselves unable to perform tasks they once did with ease, or they might experience such persistent pain that maintaining regular work hours becomes impossible.
In such cases, TDIU benefits come into play. Even if your disability rating is less than 100%, if your back pain affects your ability to work to such an extent that you’re essentially unemployable, you could be eligible for TDIU.
This means you’d receive compensation at the 100% disability rate due to your inability to secure and maintain substantially gainful employment.
It’s essential for veterans experiencing debilitating back pain to consider TDIU benefits.
By recognizing the impact of back pain on one’s work capability, TDIU provides a means of support, ensuring that veterans are fairly compensated for the sacrifices they’ve made.
Learn more about TDIU Benefits in our guide below.
Want to know all the details about gathering evidence for claims? Read our blog post below.
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.
Have Questions About Understanding How the Claims Process Works?
Hill & Ponton are here to support you with getting started with your claim.
If you are intending to appeal a denied claim, you can contact us for an evaluation and we can help you with this process.
However, if you are considering filing an initial claim, or even if you are interested in learning about the appeals process, we offer a free ebook to get you started on the right foot!
The Road to VA Compensation Benefits will help break down the claims process from start to finish. Click the link below to learn more.
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