When the nerves that carry messages from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body are damaged, a condition known as peripheral neuropathy can develop.
Peripheral neuropathy can cause a wide range of uncomfortable symptoms that may make performing everyday tasks difficult. If your peripheral neuropathy becomes debilitating and you're unable to work, you may be entitled to Social Security (SS) disability benefits. Because applying for disability can be a complex and lengthy process, it’s helpful to have experienced legal representation to ensure the process goes smoothly.
Common Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy
The nerve damage that results in peripheral neuropathy can be caused by physical trauma such as car accidents, botched surgical procedures, or repetitive stress injuries. It can also be caused by diseases, disorders, cancers, infections, or exposure to toxins, as well as genetic disorders and nutritional deficiencies. Diabetes mellitus, an endocrine disorder characterized by high blood glucose levels, is a common cause of peripheral neuropathy. As many as 70 percent of diabetics in the United States have some form of nervous system damage, according to the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Peripheral Neuropathy Symptoms
Peripheral neuropathy can cause a range of symptoms from acute to chronic. Chronic forms of peripheral neuropathy tend to progress slowly and worsen over time, with some sufferers experiencing periods of relief and relapse. In cases of diabetic neuropathy, symptoms are usually first felt in the feet and then progress to the legs, fingers, hands, and arms. Peripheral neuropathy symptoms can be divided into three types: motor nerve damage, sensory nerve damage, and autonomic nerve damage. Symptoms of motor nerve damage include:
- Muscle weakness
- Painful cramps
- Uncontrollable muscle twitching
- Muscle atrophy
- Decreased reflexes
Peripheral neuropathy can also cause sensory nerve damage, the symptoms of which can range widely and include:
- Decreased sensation
- Inability to coordinate complex movements
- Inability to maintain balance when eyes are closed
- Loss of pain sensation
- Inability to feel injuries or infections
- Neuropathic pain
- Oversensitization of pain receptors
- Feeling severe pain from painless stimuli
- Changes to the skin, hair, joints, and bones
- Numbness, tingling, prickling sensations
Autonomic nerve damage can make it difficult for your body to regulate a wide range of automatic functions. Symptoms can include:
- Inability to sweat normally, heat intolerance
- Loss of bladder control
- Inability to control muscles that regulate blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
- Diarrhea, constipation, or bowel incontinence
- Problems eating or swallowing
Treatments for Peripheral Neuropathy
When treating peripheral neuropathy, doctors often first work with patients to control any contributing factors. This may mean combating an infection, correcting vitamin or hormonal deficiencies, or in the case of diabetics, gaining tighter blood glucose control. Addressing these types of underlying conditions may help damaged nerves heal, causing the symptoms of the peripheral neuropathy to resolve on their own.
There are also a variety of medications available to help peripheral neuropathy patients manage their symptoms, including:
- Antiarrhythmic medications
- Narcotic pain medications
Other treatments include topical medications, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), and surgical intervention.
Applying for SS
The treatments for peripheral neuropathy don't work for all patients. If your peripheral neuropathy makes it difficult or impossible to hold a job, you may be able to apply for SS disability. The Social Security Administration (SSA) lists peripheral neuropathy in its disability evaluation Blue Book, so your application will likely be approved if you can show that the condition causes you to suffer from tremors, involuntary movements, or paralysis or partial paralysis, making it hard to function normally.
Even if you don't meet the SSA's Blue Book criteria for disability, you may still be able to qualify for SS benefits if you can prove that your peripheral neuropathy symptoms prevent you from working. The best way to do this is to have your doctor complete a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form, which discusses your diagnosis and symptoms and how the condition impacts your ability to perform in the workplace.
We Can Help
Applying for SS benefits can be a complex and confusing process. Fortunately, the knowledgeable legal team at Keefe Disability Law has extensive experience handling SS disability cases just like yours. Contact us today for a case evaluation or to request a copy of our complimentary eBook, The Five Most Frequently Asked Questions about Social Security Disability.