Syringomyelia is a serious medical condition that can cause a wide range of symptoms, many of which may become debilitating over time and lead to impairments and total disability. As syringomyelia progresses and symptoms worsen, working may become difficult. If your syringomyelia makes substantial gainful employment impossible, you may be eligible for Social Security (SS) disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Because obtaining these benefits for syringomyelia can be a complex and lengthy process, understanding the SSA's specific criteria for eligibility before submitting your application can save both time and effort.
What Is Syringomyelia?
Syringomyelia occurs when fluid-filled cysts known as syrinx form within the spinal cord. As the condition progresses, these cysts can grow and expand, causing severe damage to the spinal cord and an array of symptoms that range from uncomfortable to debilitating. In some cases, syringomyelia may cause no symptoms and only require regular monitoring by your doctor. However, more severe cases of syringomyelia may require surgery and extensive rehabilitation.
Doctors and medical researchers have identified several possible causes for syringomyelia, including spinal cord inflammation, injuries, and tumors. However, most of the time, syringomyelia is associated with Chiari malformation, a condition that causes brain tissue to protrude and grow into the spinal cord. In cases of syringomyelia caused by Chiari malformation, symptoms usually begin to develop when the patient is a teenager or young adult.
Symptoms Associated With Syringomyelia
As the fluid-filled cysts enlarge and begin to damage the spinal cord, patients may experience a wide range of symptoms, including pain, weakness, and stiffness. Early signs and symptoms of syringomyelia usually appear between the ages of 25 and 40. These symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness and atrophy
- Diminished reflexes
- Decreased sensitivity to pain and temperature
As the condition worsens, so do the symptoms. Patients with severe or advanced syringomyelia may experience:
- Neck pain
- Radiating pain in the arms and legs
- Spasms or tightness in the leg or arm muscles
- Numbness of the skin
- Decreased tactile sensation
- Severe headaches
- Decreased coordination
- Pain or numbness in the face
- Bladder or bowel problems
- Loss of nervous system function
- Chronic pain
- Decreased use of the arms or hands
- Difficulty walking without assistance
- Homer syndrome (which can cause drooping eyelids and constricted pupils)
- Scoliosis (spinal curvature)
Many of these symptoms can make it difficult to complete regular daily activities such as bathing, dressing, or grooming. Patients may also have difficulty fulfilling work-related obligations or cultivating or maintaining social relationships.
Applying for SS Benefits for Syringomyelia
Syringomyelia is included in the SSA's “Blue Book” Listing of Impairments, which means that patients who meet the listing's criteria are considered totally disabled and automatically approved for SS benefits. To satisfy the SSA's “Blue Book” criteria for syringomyelia, your condition must affect your bulbar muscle control, making it difficult for you to breathe, swallow, or speak, or cause significant impairment in at least two extremities, interfering with your ability to walk or use your arms, hands, or fingers.
Even if you don't automatically qualify for SS through the SSA's “Blue Book” listing, you may still be eligible for benefits if you can show that your condition prevents you from working. Ask the doctor who treats your syringomyelia to complete a residual functional capacity (RFC) form on your behalf. This essential form discusses your diagnosis and prognosis, as well as the limitations your condition places on your ability to earn a living.
Do You Need Help Applying for SS?
People who are unfamiliar with the SS disability application process may find the experience a bit daunting. However, you don't have to go through this complex process alone. An experienced disability attorney can guide you each and every step of the way, and ensure that your application contains all the necessary information. Contact the legal team at Keefe Disability Law to request a free copy of the book, The Five Most Frequently Asked Questions About Social Security Disability, or schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation.